With free agency’s top three players all having come off the board at the Winter Meetings, fans can now turn their attention to the second tier of the market. Chief among those second-tier players is Nicholas Castellanos. The youngest free agent among MLBTR’s top 50, the 27-year-old (28 in March) has compiled a strong multi-year offensive track record. Since the start of 2017, he has slashed .287/.337/.505 (121 wRC+). He also has the fortune of hitting the market fresh off a dynamic second-half tear following a trade from the Tigers to the Cubs. Even more importantly, that midseason swap allowed him to hit the market unencumbered by a qualifying offer.
Castellanos’ defensive shortcomings have been thoroughly discussed, and they figure to drag down his market somewhat. He washed out at third base, and the Tigers bumped him to the corner outfield. Unsurprisingly, that transition got off to a dreadful start, as Castellanos rated as 31 outs below average, per Statcast, over his first season-plus on the grass. To his credit, he took a significant step forward with the glove in 2019. Last year, Statcast had Castellanos as just two outs below average, while UZR and DRS each felt he cost his teams about five to ten runs defensively. It’s highly unlikely Castellanos will ever be even average with the glove, but he has shown enough competency to pique the interest of NL suitors. Teams needn’t have a DH slot to plug Castellanos’ potent bat into the lineup. They just have to be willing to stomach less-than-ideal range in the corner outfield.
Castellanos’ youth gives him a broad range of appeal. Teams not poised to contend in 2020 could still pursue Castellanos and expect a few peak years in 2021 and beyond. Whether he would be amenable to joining a non-contender after suffering through a few miserable years in Detroit isn’t clear, but he should have plenty of options. To this point in the offseason, we’ve heard Castellanos linked to the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Reds. The Cubs, too, obviously like the player, but they are seemingly unwilling to take on the cost a Castellanos deal would require. At the start of the offseason, MLBTR readers considered the cross-town White Sox the plurality favorite, as did the MLBTR staff. They haven’t been publicly tied to Castellanos this offseason, though, and they’ve seemingly addressed their right field situation through other means. To this point, the strongest tie to Castellanos has been with the Giants. One rival executive thinks it a foregone conclusion he’ll end up in San Francisco, although there’s ample time for the sweepstakes to go in any number of directions.
What of Castellanos’ price tag? He’s a tough free agent to pin down. The MLBTR staff forecast a four-year, $58MM deal at the start of the offseason. There are perhaps wider error bars on Castellanos than many free agents, though. He obviously has wide appeal, having been linked to almost a third of the league over the past month. The market, too, has proven stronger than anticipated for quite a few players in the early going. That said, we’re only a few months removed from the Tigers trading Castellanos to Chicago for a pair of mid-tier prospects. That came on the heels of months of Detroit not finding any offers to their liking despite Castellanos’ prominent availability on the trade block. There’s no doubt Castellanos improved his stock somewhat by tearing the cover off the ball in Chicago, but it wasn’t all that long ago that teams seemed to regard him as a fine but hardly game-changing player.
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