Inbox: Will Castellanos be a Cub next season?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Cubs fans

September 23rd, 2019

Do you think the Cubs will re-sign Nicholas Castellanos?
-- From @kellymroz25 on Twitter

There will surely be mutual interest, but Nicholas Castellanos is represented by agent Scott Boras, who is going to try to capitalize on this moment for his client.

Castellanos will be hitting the open market ahead of his age-28 season, will not be subject to a qualifying offer and will be one of the top hitters in a free-agent class headlined by Anthony Rendon. And while advanced metrics do not paint a great defensive picture, Castellanos has shown he can be an elite bat, even elevating his performance after jumping into the thick of a pennant chase with the Cubs.

Castellanos had 27 homers, 58 doubles and 100 runs scored through Sunday. He's only the third player to hit those marks in a single season since at least 1908. Through 49 games with the Cubs, Castellanos has turned in a .335/.370/.675 slash line with 16 homers, 21 doubles, 36 RBIs and 43 runs scored. He's been a catalyst for the lineup and an instant cult hero for the fan base.

The issue for the Cubs here is not necessarily the ability to afford Castellanos, but that there are a lot of things on the to-do list to assess and address. Chicago might look to shake up its core via trade to strengthen other areas on the roster. The rotation could use some help. The bullpen is losing a considerable group of veterans. Some leadership projects to exit the roster as well.

If the Cubs make a push to keep Castellanos, the team needs to know that the pursuit there does not hinder tackling other offseason needs. He could have a home in right or left field, depending on how Chicago opts to possibly reorganize its offense for 2020. And Castellanos' offensive style really works in Wrigley Field. But Boras knows all of that as well as the Cubs, so expect the price to be steep.

Can you please sum up the salaries "expected" to come off the books (Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, Pedro Strop, etc.) this offseason? How much is currently committed to 2020? What about possible opt-out clauses?
-- From @rholzber1 on Twitter

The Cubs have a list of potential free agents that includes Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist and Pedro Strop, as you noted, but also Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Jonathan Lucroy and Castellanos. More could join that grouping, too. The list of pending free agents accounts for roughly $45 million in 2019 payroll.

That said, there are players on guaranteed deals who will have raises coming in 2020. There are also a few team options (most notably: Anthony Rizzo, José Quintana and David Phelps) and Yu Darvish has the ability to opt out of his contract (though that would be quite surprising). Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras will headline the group of arbitration-eligible players.

Looking at guaranteed deals, and factoring in a few team options and potential buyouts, the Cubs' 2020 payroll projects around $140 million, before adding the considerable arbitration group into the equation.

Is Nico Hoerner ready to be the leadoff hitter this team desperately needs?
-- From @1376_EricW on Twitter

I think the first question to answer is how Nico Hoerner will fit into the 2020 plans.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon firmly believes Hoerner has what it takes to be an everyday shortstop in the Majors, especially as the rookie's arm strength improves over time. With Báez in the fold, though, expect Hoerner to be given a chance to win Chicago's job at second base next spring. It's also worth noting that the Cubs feel Hoerner can be an option for center field, too.

Given his knack for putting the bat on the ball, yes, it's possible Hoerner could grow into a leadoff hitter over time.

One of the Cubs' big issues this year as a team has been contact rate (73.9 percent, 30th in MLB), swinging-strike rate (12.2 percent, 28th in MLB) and contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (83.4 percent, 27th in MLB). In his brief taste of the Majors so far, Hoerner has an 82.4 percent contact rate, 10.3 percent swinging-strike rate and 90.9 percent contact rate on pitches in the zone.

What's next for Jon Lester and Jose Quintana? Both really struggled down the stretch.
-- From @captaincub1012 on Twitter

Jon Lester is under contract for $20 million next season (a drop from the $27.5 million he's earning this season). The Cubs have an $11.5 million team option (or $1 million buyout) for Jose Quintana. Even though Quintana has had an inconsistent campaign with a tough string of outings down the stretch here, that's an affordable rate for a starter. I'd expect Chicago to pick that up. If Quintana does not wind up in the 2020 plans, it'd likely be due to a trade rather than declining the option.

Where do the Cubs rank in games scoring two runs or fewer this season? How many such games did they have in 2016 and ‘17? Is it correct the Cubs scored two or fewer in 25 percent of their games in ‘18? Do the Cubs have significantly more such games than average?
-- From @dennisr04010724 on Twitter

Heading into Monday's off-day, the Cubs had 45 games with two or fewers runs scored. There were 10 teams with more such games this year in the Majors, which has an average of 41.6 such games among the 30 teams. That number was 55 in 2018 (roughly one-third of Chicago's games) and 47 in '17. During the '16 season, the Cubs had the fewest such games (36) in the big leagues.

On Sept. 9, when the Cubs called up Hoerner, they designated lefty Randy Rosario for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Why would they DFA Rosario, who was claimed by the Royals, when they could have DFA'd Brandon Morrow, who will not pitch again this season and has no chance of having his 2020 option picked up by the Cubs?
-- Tim M., Des Plaines, Ill.

The main logistical reason here is that Brandon Morrow is on the 60-day injured list, which means he is not counted on the Cubs' 40-man roster. Parting with Morrow would not have cleared a spot for Hoerner. On the baseball side of things, Randy Rosario had slipped down the left-handed reliever depth chart. The emergence of Kyle Ryan, promise of Brad Wieck, comeback of Danny Hultzen and acquisition of Derek Holland made Rosario an odd-man out in that regard.