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One big way Castellanos is improving

November 16, 2019

After an up-and-down 2019 season that featured a slow start in Detroit followed by a white-hot stretch in Chicago, Nicholas Castellanos is testing the free-agent market. Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 27-year-old outfielder, who is a free agent this offseason.

After an up-and-down 2019 season that featured a slow start in Detroit followed by a white-hot stretch in Chicago, Nicholas Castellanos is testing the free-agent market.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 27-year-old outfielder, who is a free agent this offseason.

Castellanos' defense is improved, widening his market

Nov. 16: Castellanos improved upon his defense in 2019, and that could have a huge impact on the market for the free agent this offseason, writes MLB.com's Mike Petriello. Entering 2019, Castellanos' defense profile hadn't been stellar, and it wasn't great in 2019, but it was certainly better. His Outs Above Average went from minus-24 to minus-7, and had a similar jump in Defensive Runs Saved from 2018 to 2019: minus-19 to minus-9. He's still in the negatives, but those are not insignificant changes.

Castellanos actually got off to an even better start in the outfield and then struggled in June, which sent his numbers back down into the negatives. Perhaps it was a slump, notes Petriello -- those can happen to outfielders, too.

Defense is key to Castellanos' market, because it widens the scope for him beyond simply American League teams looking for a DH. More >

Which team is the favorite to get Castellanos?

Nov. 12: Castellanos' 2019 season went from disappointing in Detroit to crushing in Chicago following a midseason swap to the Cubs.

In fact, after hitting 11 homers in 100 games with the Tigers, the 27-year-old managed to establish a career high in the category by bashing a whopping 16 long balls in almost exactly half as many games with the Cubs (51).

After all that success, is there a chance the outfielder might want to stick in the same city? Hmmm.

In a poll conducted by MLB Trade Rumors asking readers to predict where 10 of the top free agents would sign, a Chicago squad was the favorite to ink Castellanos -- but it's not the Cubs.

That's right: The White Sox led the poll with 30.7 percent, just barely ahead of the Cubs at 23.8 percent. Those two teams were the clear top two, suggesting that there really may be something to Castellanos staying put -- only perhaps moving from the North Side to the South Side.

Marlins believed to have interest in Castellanos

Nov. 11: Although the Marlins are still in the early stages of their rebuild, the team could be a player on the free-agent market this offseason. The club needs a middle-of-the-order bat and is believed to be interested in Castellanos, writes MLB.com's Joe Frisaro.

Castellanos, a South Florida native, has recorded a 120 OPS+ over the past four seasons. That includes a 151 OPS+ in 51 games with the Cubs in 2019.

The Marlins could use more offense all over the diamond, but the team might need to overpay the 27-year-old slugger to get him to come to a non-contender after he just left a similar situation in Detroit when he was traded to Chicago in July.

Will Castellanos be this offseason's 'biggest bust'?

Nov. 8: Castellanos had a tremendous season at the plate in 2019, particularly after being traded by the Tigers to the Cubs. We all know he can hit a ton, but he also comes with drawbacks, as ESPN's David Schoenfield notes (subscription required).

"He's a below-average corner outfielder who doesn't walk much and might get paid based on those two months in Chicago," Schoenfield writes. "At $15 million or so per season, he's probably fine for three or four years. But a big annual average deal and more years could be risky for a guy who ends up as a DH in a couple of years."

Castellanos hit .321/.356/.646 with 21 doubles and 16 homers in just 51 games for Chicago following the trade, and for the season, his slash line was .289/.337/.525 with 27 homers and an MLB-best 58 doubles.

Glimmer of hope for Castellanos' defense?

Nov. 7: Only two outfielders have had fewer defensive runs saved than Castellanos (-28) over the past two seasons. But is there a glimmer of hope? The Athletic's Mark Simon writes that there could be, given his DRS actually improved by 10 runs in 2019, mostly due to better defense on deep fly balls.

"The team that signs Castellanos will want to work closely with him not just to improve his attempts to make catches, but also to limit his mistakes and minimize baserunner advancement," writes Simon.

We all know what Castellanos can do with the bat, but it's been his glove that has been an issue, perhaps making some NL teams wary of signing him. But if there's confidence in him improving defensively, that could allay some of those concerns.

Could Castellanos stay in Chicago, but with White Sox instead of Cubs?

Nov. 6: It's safe to say Castellanos enjoyed his brief time with the Cubs last season. In 51 games after coming over from the Tigers in a trade, Castellanos hit .321 with 16 homers and a 1.002 OPS, significantly boosting his stats heading into free agency. According to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, there's mutual interest between the team and Castellanos in working out a new deal.

However, the Cubs have other needs to address and might have limited money to spend as some of their core players continue to get more expensive in arbitration. That could open the door for Castellanos to jump to Chicago's other team.

Chicago sports radio personality Sam Panayotovich reported Wednesday that he was hearing the White Sox were "strongly pursuing" Castellanos, who the club became plenty familiar with during his time with the Tigers.

MLB.com's Mike Petriello thinks Castellanos would be a good fit with the White Sox, whose right fielders posted a combined 53 wRC+ in 2019, which represents the weakest-hitting performance at the position by any team dating back to '02. Castellanos could help remedy that and fill the void left in the middle of the lineup if first baseman José Abreu isn't re-signed.

Castellanos may be hesitant to step back into another rebuilding situation after leaving Detroit, but the White Sox might just be 2020's breakout team if they play their cards right, as Petriello points out.

Will Castellanos benefit from qualifying-offer decisions?

Nov. 4: Ten players received one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offers on Monday. That list included outfielder Marcell Ozuna, and it did not include Castellanos.

That news, coupled with J.D. Martinez reportedly choosing not to opt out of his Red Sox contract, made Monday a good day for Castellanos. While Martinez is primarily a designated hitter, his occasional appearances in right field made him the other potential marquee outfielder on the free-agent market. Now that it's down to Ozuna and Castellanos as the top two at the position, Castellanos might get the upper-hand because that team wouldn't have to surrender Draft pick compensation to sign him. He wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded from the Tigers to the Cubs midseason.

Does anyone stand out among the top free-agent outfielders?

Nov. 3: Unlike last offseason, when Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock and Andrew McCutchen were free agents, the outfield market this year lacks star power.

Teams seeking a center fielder will likely need to look to trade for one, with Starling Marte and Jackie Bradley Jr. among the potential candidates to be dealt.

There are a number of similar free-agent options available for clubs in need of a corner outfielder, headlined by Marcell Ozuna, Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Avisaíl García. All four bat from the right-handed side of the plate, and none is particularly known for his defense, though Puig has had his moments in the past and García has the tools to be a solid fielder.

J.D. Martinez could make the market even more crowded by opting out of his deal (three years, $62.5 million), but he has been more of a designated hitter over the past two years, perhaps limiting his suitors to American League teams.

Here's how Castellanos, Ozuna, Puig and García compare to each other statistically.

wRC+, 2019
1) Castellanos (121)
2) García (112)
3) Ozuna (110)
4) Puig (101)

wRC+, 2017-19
T-1) Ozuna (121)
T-1) Castellanos (121)
3) García (117)
4) Puig (112)

FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, 2019
1) Castellanos (2.8)
2) Ozuna (2.6)
3) García (1.8)
4) Puig (1.2)

fWAR, 2017-19
1) Ozuna (10.4)
2) Castellanos (7.2)
3) García (6.1)
4) Puig (6.0)

Castellanos and Ozuna seem to be neck and neck as the top two outfielders available, and García improved his standing with a rebound campaign in 2019. Puig surprisingly comes in fourth in each category, but teams might place added value in his marketability and postseason experience.

How much will teams buy into Castellanos' torrid finish?

Oct. 28: Castellanos got the change of scenery he wanted after a ho-hum start to the season with the Tigers (105 OPS+) and took off after his Deadline trade to the Cubs, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 homers and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. That might paint the picture of a streaky hitter, but Castellanos wound up settling right at his preseason projections for 2019, as MLB.com's Matt Kelly notes. In other words, Castellanos was the steady, line-drive machine he's been for several years running.

Castellanos very rarely lapses into a below-average hitter, a trait that's valuable to managers as they pencil in their day-to-day lineups. The bigger concern is his defense, which could scare off most National League teams that wouldn't want to play him in the outfield for the majority of a season.

Castellanos, by virtue of being traded midseason, is not eligible to receive a qualifying offer -- another potential selling point to teams this offseason, as they wouldn't have to surrender Draft pick compensation to sign him. More >