10:30am: Morosi tweets that the two sides are indeed making progress on a contract. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia tweets that the Phillies are indeed “on” Castellanos. As Salisbury points out, owner John Middleton has said in the past he’d exceed the luxury tax for the “right opportunity.”
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Marlins and Reds remain involved, although it’s nearly impossible to imagine Cincinnati re-signing Castellanos after so aggressively shedding payroll to this point. Meanwhile, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald again reports that as much as the Marlins like Castellanos, Miami has no intention of signing Castellanos to a contract of five-plus years and $100MM or more.
9:45am: One day after agreeing to a four-year deal with Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies are in “serious” pursuit of fellow slugger Nick Castellanos, reports Jayson Stark of The Athletic. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted last night that the Phils still had some interest in Castellanos even after adding Schwarber. The signing would also assuredly push Philadelphia over the $230MM luxury-tax threshold. Castellanos is represented by the Boras Corporation.
Castellanos, 30, became a free agent back in November after he exercised an opt-out clause and walked away from the final two years and $34MM remaining on a four-year, $64MM contract with the Reds. The decision was eminently foreseeable, given the strength of his production in Cincinnati. The Reds made Castellanos a qualifying offer, which he naturally rejected, meaning he’d cost the Phillies their second-highest pick and $500K from their international bonus pool. The Reds, meanwhile, would stand to gain a compensatory pick after the first round of the 2022 draft, assuming Castellanos signs for more than $50MM in guaranteed money (which seems like a given). In the small chance that he signed for less than that sum, Cincinnati’s comp pick would be pushed back about 40 selections (after Competitive Balance Round B).
Adding Castellanos to a lineup that already includes Schwarber, reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, slugger Rhys Hoskins and the steadily productive Jean Segura would give the Phillies the potential for a dominant lineup — particularly if young talents like Alec Bohm and top prospect Bryson Stott can solidify themselves as big league contributors. As a team, the 2021 Phillies were a middle-of-the-pack group, ranking 13th in the Majors in runs scored (706), 15th in home runs (198), 18th in batting average (.240), 13th in on-base percentage (.318), 14th in slugging percentage (.408) and tied for 18th in wRC+ (93).
Castellanos, who’d presumably split time with Schwarber between left field and the newly created National League designated hitter slot, just wrapped up the finest season of his big league career. In 585 plate appearances with the Reds, he turned in a .309/.362/.576 batting line with a career-high 34 home runs. He doesn’t offer a huge walk rate, but Castellanos strikes out at a lower-than-average rate and is a consistent source of high batting averages and slugging percentages.
Long a steady and productive hitter with his original organization, the Tigers, Castellanos elevated his game to new heights upon being traded to the Cubs in 2019. Since that trade, he’s put together an exceptional .292/.346/.571 batting line with 64 home runs, 70 doubles and three triples in 1052 plate appearances between Chicago and Cincinnati. That production checks in at 34% better than league average, by measure of wRC+, and little about it looks fluky. Castellanos consistently posts hard-hit rates north of 40% and barrel rates north of 10% which, combined with his above-average bat-to-ball skills, leads Statcast to rank him among the game’s leaders in expected batting average and expected slugging percentage on an annual basis.
Of course, adding Castellanos to an already defensively challenged team whose signature offseason addition thus far was the defensively challenged Schwarber creates its own concerns. Castellanos has improved his defense in right field since first moving off third base earlier in his career, but he still rates as a well below-average defender in either corner. The 2021 Phillies already ranked last in the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved, and that wasn’t an issue unique to last year’s team. The Phillies have ranked among the worst defensive teams in baseball for more than a half decade now, regularly trotting out subpar defenders and embarking on curious defensive experiments that have not proven fruitful (e.g. Rhys Hoskins in left field).
Bringing Castellanos into the mix won’t fix that longstanding organizational flaw, but it’d nevertheless transform an already deepened Phillies lineup into one of the more formidable units in the entire National League. Given that the Phils also have a strong rotation — Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez, Kyle Gibson — the hope would be that strong starting pitching and a potentially unyielding lineup could carry the day in spite of suspect glovework and a bullpen that has several question marks.