LAKELAND, Fla. -- Nicholas Castellanos pulled into Tigertown on Sunday morning like he has around this time each winter for years, filed his gear into his usual locker just inside the doorway to the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse, said hello to teammates, headed for the training room, then greeted reporters as he made his way back to his locker.
And with that, the question whether the slugging right fielder would be traded before Spring Training, as his agent expressed publicly last month, was over.
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The trade speculation regarding Castellanos as he enters his final season before free agency? That's far from over.
"It's the nature of the business," he said. "Today more than ever, baseball's a business, and I understand it. So the only thing I can do is just make the most of it and play for as long as I can and play to win."
Sunday marked Castellanos' first comments on his situation since the end of last season. He was clearly on the trade market then, just as he is now amidst the Tigers' ongoing rebuild. The only change in between was agent David Meter's quotes to the Detroit Free Press that his client would prefer to be dealt before Spring Training, rather than during the season, so that he could get a fresh start with a new club. General manager Al Avila's ensuing comments made it clear that there's little interest for Castellanos on the trade market.
Castellanos said his agent's comments stood on their own, but also clarified that they didn't reflect any personal attitude against the club.
"I think that it was said pretty well. It doesn't mean that I don't love Detroit," he said. "It doesn't mean that I don't love the Tigers. It has nothing to do with that comment."
If anything, the idea of being a Tiger for the long term remains appealing to him. Castellanos said he'd be open to talks on a contract extension. But so far, every indication from the Tigers is that they'll let Castellanos go into free agency and try to recoup a draft pick with a qualifying offer, if they don't trade him by next offseason.
"That's not up to me, man," Castellanos said. "If it happens, it happens. If it plays out like that, yeah, but I also understand the business side of things, where it has to be in the best interests of both sides."
And if trade rumors continue into the season?
"I don't really care too much about whatever happens," Castellanos said. "I just want to be the best me possible. And whatever uniform I'm wearing, that's what I'm going to do."
In that sense, Castellanos is taking an example from how former teammate J.D. Martinez handled his final season before free agency two years ago.
"He stayed locked in and he made it about his everyday routine, instead of all the outside buzz," Castellanos said. "He did a really good job of that."
Castellanos' offseason routine kept him locked in at home, so to speak. With help and advice from Tigers' strength and conditioning coach Chris Walter, Castellanos turned his garage into a home gym and worked out on his own. It was a change from past offseasons when he has worked at facilities, but it also gave him a flexible schedule with his son, Liam, and an extra level of self-discipline.
"I just wanted to see if I could do it," he said.
He still couldn't avoid the trade buzz. With each rumor, friends would text him to make sure he was up to date, to the point that he wanted to turn it off.
The trade speculation hits especially close to home for the Michigan side of his family, on his mother's side. Though Castellanos grew up in South Florida, his grandfather was a Detroit firefighter, and he would visit family in Michigan during the summer when he was growing up. When the Tigers drafted him in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, it was a dream come true for many.
"Well, they love the Tigers," Castellanos said with a smile. "But they love me more. So they want me to be happy and they want what's best for my family. They understand how important stability is for a child, for a relationship, for just mental health in general. So they want me to be stable and happy and playing baseball the same way I did when I was a little kid."
Castellanos has approached baseball with that joy of a youngster. Between trade speculation and free agency in an uncertain market for both, this year could be a test.
"Baseball's a kid's game," Castellanos said, "and business is an adult's game."