Nicholas Castellanos completed an impressive turnaround to his 2019 campaign after he was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Chicago Cubs. Now, after being said to have improved his defensive skill set, he could be a vital part of a not so deep free agent outfield group.
Castellanos broke through for the Cubs in the second half of the season, batting .321 with 16 homers in half the at bats he had in Detroit. He had the seventh-highest batting average in that span, tied with Pirates outfielder Starling Marte, and only Anthony Rizzo was a better performer at the plate for the Cubbies after the All-Star Game.
What’s fascinating is that he’s likely to go as an under-the-radar signing, mostly due to elite teams focusing on pitching upgrades. However, the Florida native proved last year that he can enormously help every line-up, and thus far he’s caught the eye from teams that are close to contending but struggled offensively last year.
Here’s who could get what might be one of the biggest steals of the offseason:
The Mets had a pretty solid offensive campaign but questions about the outfield remain. Michael Conforto and JD Davis are considered locks. Meanwhile, Brendan Nimmo batted .257 in an injury-ridden season and New York is rumored to be looking for an addition in the outfield.
The most common name in the conversation has been Pittsburgh’s Marte, who posted a .295 average in 2019 in addition to setting career-highs in home runs (23) and RBI (82). He’s without any doubt a terrific power hitter, but his price might be little too high. Scouts evaluated three possible packages in a Marte trade for SNY, two of which involve either JD Davis or prospects David Peterson and Andres Gimenez.
Trading someone like Gimenez or Dom Smith for example would make sense. However, Castellanos comes cheaper and would gladly take less than the $11.5 million – Marte will make in each of the next two seasons.
Not only are the Cubs short of outfielders, they could soon be short of power bats. As Kris Bryant being traded comes closer to reality, Chicago might be in a desperate need to keep as much offensive star power as they can. Moreover, their best current option in right field, which is where Castellanos played with the Cubs, is Ian Happ.
Dealing Bryant away looks inevitable at this point as the Cubs are just $200,000 short of luxury tax and need to empty some space for upgrades in the bullpen and at shortstop and, ultimately, at third base. Getting Castellanos back is important to sustain the level of a line-up that ranked 6th in the National League in runs scored in the second half.
The Reds get to keep the majority of what was a dominant starting rotation last season. Their Achilles’ heel was on the offensive side of the ball. Cincinnati finished the year 25th in scoring and has room for improvement in left field, at shortstop and at catcher.
Now that the only power hitting free agent catcher in Yasmani Grandal is off the table, the Reds could look to give the nod to Castellanos, with Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino moving to centre and left to make room for the former Tiger in right. Comparing Castellanos to previous Reds left fielder Jesse Winker, Castellanos had a higher batting average by .020 and higher OPS by .033, which sets the bar high for the Reds to improve at the plate.
The Marlins traded most of their star players between 2017 and 2019 during their full rebuild following the purchase of the club by Derek Jeter. The way their starting rotation played in the first half showed that the plan might be working – Miami posted the 4th-best starters ERA in the NL before the ASG prior to a second half that saw injuries to Caleb Smith and Jose Urena end the optimism down in The Sunshine State.
The Marlins’ real woes are at the home plate, where they scored NL-worst 615 runs throughout the 2019 season. Just a couple of months later, they’ve already jumped among the favourites for Castellanos and former Marlin and Cardinal Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins have currently spent just over $37 million in salaries and have a whooping $170 million to go before being hit by luxury tax.
Here’s a surprise, or rather a disappointment – the Indians have so little talent in their outfield and, yet, they aren’t pushing for any players, at least not yet. Oscar Mercado is a lock in center field, Terry Francona might choose to stick with Jake Bauers in left but Tyler Naquin probably won’t be starting over in right come Opening Day.
The Indians saw a good season on the mound by both the rotation and the bullpen, which were very solid. Their next move should be getting a good offensive outfielder, and if they end up on the short end in the battle for Ozuna, Marte and etc., Castellanos should be a top priority for a team that is 20th in payroll in MLB.