“There’s been no talking” between the Tigers and Nick Castellanos’ representatives about a possible contract extension, the slugger told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News and other reporters. Castellanos reiterated that he would love to spend the rest of his career in Detroit, and stated “I think both sides know a conversation would be welcome” about a long-term pact.
This isn’t the first time Castellanos has discussed his willingness to discuss an extension, and of course there’s still plenty of time before Opening Day (or beyond, if Castellanos is open to in-season negotiations) for the Tigers to begin talks. That said, the Tigers have discussed extensions with Castellanos in the past, so the heretofore lack of negotiations just months before the right fielder is scheduled to hit free agency is rather telling. Between the lack of talks and the months of trade rumors swirling around Castellanos, it certainly seems as if the Tigers see him more as a trade chip rather than as a building block of the next Detroit contender.
Though Castellanos is still young (he turned 27 earlier this week) and has hit a very solid .285/.336/.495 over the last three seasons, he has thus far been a bat-only player over his first six years in the big leagues. Despite posting a 121 wRC+ and OPS since 2016, Castellanos only has 7.0 fWAR total over those three seasons due to very poor glovework as both as third baseman and right fielder. While Castellanos only became a full-time outfielder in 2018 and is athletic enough to potentially become at least passable defensively, the Tigers may not want to bet (in the form of a contract extension) on such an improvement until they actually see better results. Detroit already has at least $162MM tied up in Miguel Cabrera through the 2023 season, and committing more money to Castellanos could result in a clog at the first base/DH positions if first base duty is eventually in Castellanos’ future.
This lack of defensive utility is of obvious concern to Castellanos as he approaches free agency, due to both the lack of free agent activity in general over the last two winters, and the particularly chilled market for first base/DH types. However, Castellanos’ limitations have also been a reason why there hasn’t been too much trade interest in his services (of course, the Tigers’ reported high asking price is also clearly a major factor).
If there is a limited market for Castellanos as a both a future free agent and as a current trade chip, McCosky suggests that there could be some opportunity here for a shorter-term arrangement between the Tigers and Castellanos, perhaps from a starting point of a three- or four-year deal worth $10MM-$11MM per season. Such a deal, as McCosky notes, would cover the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, perhaps allowing Castellanos to enter free agency when the conditions are more favorable to a player of his profile. Such a deal could be attractive to the Tigers as a relative bargain for a good hitter in his prime years, though if the club doesn’t really plan to start spending (and pushing to contend) until 2021, keeping Castellanos for two more seasons even at something of a discount might not fit Detroit’s plans.