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Tigers trade veteran OF Castellanos to Cubs

Club lands two right-handed prospects for its 2010 first-round Draft pick
@beckjason
July 31, 2019

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos’ two-year stint on the trade market went all the day down to the final minutes before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline. When the Tigers and Cubs submitted their trade to Major League Baseball, sending Detroit’s veteran right fielder to Chicago for right-handers Alex Lange and Paul Richan, there

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos’ two-year stint on the trade market went all the day down to the final minutes before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline.

When the Tigers and Cubs submitted their trade to Major League Baseball, sending Detroit’s veteran right fielder to Chicago for right-handers Alex Lange and Paul Richan, there was 42 seconds until the 4 p.m. ET Deadline. One minute more, and Castellanos would’ve played out the season in Detroit and left via free agency, with the Tigers likely getting nothing in return.

“The closer you get and the longer that you stay to the end,” general manager Al Avila said, “the bigger the chance that you walk away with nothing.”

As tough as it was for Avila, a key part of the Tigers’ decision to draft Castellanos out of high school in 2010, he had to do it.

“I look at him like a son, almost,” said Avila, who traded his son, Alex Avila, to the Cubs two years ago. “I've known him for a long time. I know his father very well. It's always hard for me to trade a guy that I get so close to.”

It wasn’t easy for Castellanos, either, even as he looked forward to a chance at his first postseason berth since his rookie season in 2014. The end of Castellanos’ six-year Tigers tenure closes the book on the organization’s longest-tenured homegrown player, and the longest-tenured Tiger after Miguel Cabrera.

“I’m very excited to be able to go to Chicago and help this team in a pennant race in any way that I can,” Castellanos told reporters Wednesday from Angel Stadium. “But I also know that when all the excitement and everything slows down, I’ll miss everything that was in Detroit. I played here [in the Tigers' system] for nine years. Anything that I know besides high school baseball is Detroit Tigers. If I’ve done it, I did it here.”

Detroit selected Castellanos with its top pick in the 2010 Draft despite expectations he’d be a tough sign. Negotiations lasted into the final minutes before the signing deadline, but the Tigers finally coaxed him out of a commitment to the University of Miami.

Castellanos made his big league debut three years later as a September callup in Detroit’s outfield, and he became the team’s everyday third baseman in 2014. Though he eventually moved from third base back to the outfield at the end of '17, he was a durable member of a Tigers lineup that shifted around him, playing 314 of a possible 324 games in the '17 and '18 seasons.

After three seasons as a supporting hitter in Detroit’s lineup, Castellanos broke out just as the Tigers' rebuild began, using a torrid closing stretch to finish 2017 with a .272 average, .811 OPS, 36 doubles, 10 triples, 26 home runs and 101 RBIs. He took another step forward in '18, batting .298 with an .854 OPS, 46 doubles, 23 homers and 89 RBIs despite little support around him in the lineup.

While this year hasn’t been quite as productive, Castellanos’ 37 doubles tied him for the Major League lead entering Wednesday.

While Castellanos’ breakout in 2017 followed the trades of J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Justin Verlander, it was followed almost immediately by the Tigers’ intentions to listen to trade interest in him.

Though Castellanos' name has been mentioned in trade rumors for two years, no deal came close to fruition until now, when Detroit faced the same predicament it faced with Martinez two summers ago: Take what you can get for Castellanos on the trade market or lose him for likely nothing in free agency.

“Our sights were on trying to see if there was any type of return we could get for Nick,” Avila said. “I think we felt fortunate to get two pitchers that we feel are prospects that we feel have upside to get to the big leagues and contribute. If we didn't get that, we would have probably just kept Nick for two months.”

Unlike with Martinez two years ago, the Tigers took Castellanos' trade market to the final moments before the Deadline. But like Martinez, the combination of Castellanos’ looming free agency at season’s end, his defensive analytics -- despite notable improvement as right fielder in 2019 -- and a limited market for hitters tempered trade talks.

Richan, the Cubs' 16th-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, has impressed after his second-round selection in last year’s Draft out of the University of San Diego. The 22-year-old posted a 10-5 record and a 3.97 ERA in 17 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, striking out 86 batters over 93 innings. Like Tigers ace Matthew Boyd, Richan pairs a low-90s fastball with an advanced low-80s slider, complementing them with a curveball and a changeup.

Richan will join the rotation at Class A Advanced Lakeland. While he has shown immediate results on his way up the developmental ladder, Lange has been more of a project. The Cubs’ first-round pick in 2017 out of LSU, Lange went 3-12 with a 5.82 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. MLB Pipeline ranked him 23rd on its Cubs prospect list.

The Tigers have a connection to LSU, where Lange was the Friday night starter. Before Avila got into pro ball, he was an assistant coach at St. Thomas University under Paul Mainieri, now the head coach at LSU. Avila had enough time to call his old boss before the deal.

“We feel we can turn [Lange] around,” Avila said. “Our plan is to send him to Erie and throw him out of the bullpen. Even in college, they felt he was going to be a good reliever. Quite frankly, that was the only reason we got him. I think we can get him on the right track.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.