There’s no doubt that outfielder Nicholas Castellanos has established himself as one of the majors’ best trade deadline acquisitions this year. Since he went from the Tigers to the Cubs on July 31, Castellanos has slashed .333/.359/.673 with 14 home runs in 167 plate appearances. He’s tied for 21st among position players in fWAR (1.5) dating back to the start of August, while his 160 wRC+ ranks an even better 18th.
Not only has Castellanos’ late-season production been beneficial to the Cubs, who are trying to grab a playoff spot in a hotly contested National League race, but it figures to help his cause on the cusp of a potential trip to free agency. The 27-year-old will be among the premier offensive players on the open market should he get there, which agent Scott Boras implied is likely to happen.
“He’s the youngest free agent, and he doesn’t have a qualifying offer,” Boras told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “So I would say he’s in position to be optimally observed because he fits, really, the m.o. of any team — whether you’re a rebuilding club, because of his age, whether you’re a club that’s close to winning and wants to win, or whether you’re a club that is an existing top-eight club that’s going to compete for the World Series. He’s one of those guys that fits all clubs.”
Whether Castellanos “fits all clubs” is up for debate. After all, his defense has been widely panned at multiple positions since his first full season in Detroit back in 2014. Castellanos spent the initial portion of his career at third base, but he had such difficulty there that the Tigers elected to move him to right field on a full-time basis a couple years back. He has since garnered negative reviews in right, including in 2019. Through almost 1,100 innings in the grass this season, Castellanos has accounted for minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, a minus-4.8 Ultimate Zone Rating and minus-5 Outs Above Average.
Castellanos’ ongoing issues in the field may well tamp down his value in free agency, and they could turn off certain National League teams from pursuing him because of a lack of a designated hitter option. That said, Castellanos is a long-respectable hitter who has been highly valuable in the NL this year as a member of the Cubs. Plus, as Boras noted, there won’t be a qualifying offer weighing him down because he was part of an in-season trade. That probably won’t be the case for the Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna – arguably the top corner outfielder nearing free agency – as he figures to receive a QO from his team.
Just how aggressive Chicago will be in trying to retain Castellanos is up in the air at this point. Unsurprisingly, though, Boras doesn’t seem as if he’s in the mood to give the Cubs a discount. While Boras informed Wittenmyer that it would be customary for a free agent to “want to listen to the Cubs” – one of the game’s highest-spending franchises – he expects Castellanos to “listen to everybody.” Castellanos isn’t ready to discuss his post-2019 future, which is to be expected, as he suggested his focus is on the current campaign. Despite Castellanos’ best efforts, the Cubs very well could miss the playoffs this year for the first time since 2014. They’ll head into Friday tied with the Christian Yelich-less Brewers for the NL’s second wild-card spot.