Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos says he has not made a decision about his ability to opt out of the remainder of his contract this winter. He recently discussed the matter with Mark Sheldon of MLB.com and said, “I don’t know what I want… There is so much information that I’m going to take in. I also have to take into mind the status of the game. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is now coming up. Once I take a step back from the season and have some days at home with my family and I’m able to just hang out with my wife, dog and kid, and we can just talk about what happened and get as much information as I can.”
At this point, it would be incredibly surprising if Castellanos decided not to opt out, given that he’s enjoying the best season of his career. Going into the last day of the campaign, the 29-year-old is currently hitting .308/.360/.574. That all adds up to a wRC+ of 139 and 4.0 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. Both of those numbers are well beyond his previous best season of 2018, when his wRC+ was 129 and he was worth 2.9 fWAR. In 2019, he was almost as good, putting up a wRC+ of 122 and 2.8 fWAR.
After those two consecutive excellent campaigns, he signed with the Reds on a four-year, $64MM contract that contained opt-out provisions after both 2020 and 2021. He didn’t use that first opt-out opportunity as last year proved to be a slight down year for him, hitting just .225/.298/.486, wRC+ of 100. But when that shortened season is combined with the full campaign of 2021, his numbers are right in line with his previous production. His 2020-21 slash line is .283/.342/.548, wRC+ of 127.
The contract contains two more guaranteed years, with a salary of $16MM in each of 2022 and 2023. There’s also a $2MM buyout on a $20MM mutual option for 2024, meaning that Castellanos, if he opts out, would be leaving two years and $34MM in guaranteed money on the table in exchange for the open market. If he does, the Reds would certainly extend him a qualifying offer, which will be in the range of $20MM.
Even with that taken into consideration, it seems likely Castellanos could find more money in free agency now as a 29-year-old than he would if he waited until the end of this contract, when he would be 31. For example, Marcell Ozuna has a similar bat-first outfielder profile. He turned down a qualifying offer after a mediocre 2019 season wherein he hit .241/328/.472 for a wRC+ of 110. He was still able to get himself a one-year, $18MM contract with the Braves for his age-29 season. Then he had a tremendous campaign in the shortened 2020 season and parlayed that into a four-year, $65MM contract to return to Atlanta.
However, as Castellanos himself points out, this coming offseason has the added uncertainty of the CBA negotiations. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and players’ union expires December 1st, which leaves the door open for all kinds of unknown paths for the offseason to take. Perhaps Castellanos would rather not go through all of that while temporarily unemployed, even if that means potentially limiting his overall earning power somewhat. As he himself put it, “You have to balance everything that you possibly can: How much you like where you’re playing, how close it is to home because I’m co-parenting, where the organization is in the spot to compete, and obviously, the financial part of it is important as well. It’s a balance of all of that.”