Serving as one of the last free agent rumors of the night before yesterday’s lockout officially commenced, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Padres were “showing strong interest” in free agent Nick Castellanos. An important disclaimer here is that teams are prohibited from contacting players or making any transactions during the duration of this lockout. Ultimately, it remains to be seen how strongly yesterday’s reported interest in Castellanos will persist when the transaction freeze is over. Nonetheless, this is a notable piece of insight into how San Diego may operate when they’re free to bolster their roster again.
The 29-year-old Castellanos should appeal to the Padres and a number of teams for one simple reason: he’s a very good hitter. In 138 games this past season the right fielder posted personal best offensive numbers en route to a .309/.362/.576 slash line (136 OPS+) with 34 home runs. Statcast metrics largely support the output, by virtue of how frequently Castellanos makes hard contact.
One knock on Castellanos over the years is that he’s been something of a free-swinger, waving and missing at balls outside the strike zone. Statcast numbers showed more of the same in that regard during 2021. Castellanos was able to mitigate concerns about being too much of a free-swinger in one notable respect, however, since he cut down his strikeout rate to a better-than-most 20.7%. The ability to be aggressive early in the count but avoid strikeouts is an asset that will likely give teams more confidence in the player than they had in him after a replacement-level 2020 showing.
The other well-documented knock against Castellanos has been his subpar defensive ratings over the years. Despite possessing above average speed, the outfielder continued the trend of uninspiring outfield play in 2021. Any NL team looking to add Castellanos’s bat to a lineup knows they’ll be taking a bit of a hit when he takes his glove out into the field.
Those documented shortcomings, as well as the obvious offensive upside, actually lend some traction to a Padres pursuit. San Diego is a team that clearly values contact skills— they were the 5th best team in baseball at avoiding strikeouts last season. As for the defensive side of things, San Diego (and several other NL teams) may be of the mindset that when the lockout subsides the DH will exist for all 30 teams. Stowing MLBTR’s 10th-ranked free agent at a DH spot, with occasional outfield reps, seems a perfectly reasonable move then for a team whose offense proved surprisingly middling last season. Even without the DH, it’s possible some outfield shuffling can take place to accommodate Castellanos now that incumbent left fielder Tommy Pham is a free agent.