We’re still a couple weeks from the new year, but the majority of Major League Baseball’s premier free agents have already left the board since the market opened at the beginning of November. Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos stands out as one of the few still-unsigned players with significant earning power, as MLBTR predicted he’d receive a four-year, $58MM guarantee when free agency started.
Considering the high-spending nature of free agency thus far, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Castellanos outdo projections on his forthcoming deal. Regardless, the soon-to-be 28-year-old has reportedly identified a few teams that have impressed him during his first-ever trip to the market. Castellanos regards the Cubs, with whom he finished last season, as well as the Giants and Rangers as clubs “who value him for more than just his offense and that treat “clubhouse culture” as more than just T-shirts and talking points,” Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic writes (subscription link).
It’s not clear how high any of the above teams are willing to bid for Castellanos, but there is at least interest in a reunion on the Cubs’ part, per Sharma. Although the team itself fell apart late in the year and wound up outside the playoff picture, Castellanos was brilliant after coming over in a July trade with Detroit. He slashed .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs in 225 plate appearances as a Cub during a season-ending hot streak that came at an opportune time on the cusp of free agency.
Thanks in large part to his production in Chicago, 2019 went down as Castellanos’ fourth straight above-average offensive season by measure of wRC+ and OPS+. On the other hand, often regarded as defensively challenged (first as a third baseman and now in the grass), Castellanos combined for a less-than-stellar minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-5.2 Ultimate Zone Rating as a corner outfielder between the two teams. Castellanos’ well-documented limitations in the field have likely upset his market, and they could help prevent a team in the NL – where there’s no designated hitter option – from breaking the bank for him.
In the Cubs’ case, they already have Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward as prominent corner OF-capable players. Barring a major trade (Bryant? Schwarber?), which does seem to be a distinct possibility, it may be hard to fit Castellanos on their roster in 2020. Plus, while it seems they’d welcome Castellanos back in an ideal world, the Cubs have clear payroll concerns that could help stop a reunion from coming to fruition. Even though the Cubs haven’t been active in upgrading their roster this winter, Jason Martinez of Roster Resource projects them for a $214MM luxury-tax payroll next year. If that holds, they’ll outspend the $208MM threshold by more than $6MM. So, barring salary-cutting trades or a willingness on Chicago’s part to pay the tax, it’s difficult to envision Castellanos in its uniform again.
Conversely, neither the Giants nor Rangers should come close to the tax in 2020. However, at least for San Francisco, it’s up in the air whether it’ll be aggressive in attempting to boost its playoff odds for next season. The Giants don’t figure to contend then, after all, and pouring money into free agency hasn’t been president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s M.O. since he assumed the reins last year.
Meantime, this has been a fairly active offseason for the Rangers, who have spent a solid chunk of cash on a few acquisitions (pitchers Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Joely Rodriguez). The Rangers also just freed up an outfield spot by trading Nomar Mazara and could next try to reel in a big hitter in an effort to generate excitement as they get ready to open a new ballpark.