The difference between this foray into free agency and the last for Nick Castellanos is the peace of mind he possesses. He knows what the process is like firsthand.
The first time around, the search ended with Castellanos signing a five-year contract with the Reds prior to the start of the 2020 season; this offseason, with three years left on the deal, he exercised an opt-opt, making him a free agent once more.
He’s familiar with being courted -- and given the success he’s riding, he’s bound to see an escalated version of it ahead of the 2022 season.
But the star outfielder isn’t trying to pay much mind to anything. His desires are clear: He wants to play for a contender, a team heading in a direction that he can help take to the next level -- though he’ll let his agent, Scott Boras, handle the logistics and the asks.
“The most important thing I would say is just the relationship I have and the understanding I have of the organization, of the direction that they want to go in,” Castellanos said Thursday night. “‘What direction are you going in? Who's a part of your vision? How do you see them as pieces in your vision? How can I assist in growing and aiding said pieces to be better than they are now? How can I make them better in the future?’
"Relationships, if you're paying attention, you can definitely get a sense of who aligns with you, the way you think, the way you want to go about your game, the way you take the game. You just begin to understand who kind of aligns with that and who doesn't.”
But Castellanos' apprehension heading into this offseason is much lower than what he felt following 2019. It’s not hard to imagine why. Given his pedigree -- a .309/.362/.576 slash line with 38 doubles, 34 homers, 100 RBIs, a 136 OPS+ and his first career All-Star nod and Silver Slugger Award in 2021 -- there’s expected to be many suitors for the top free-agent right fielder on the market.
“I would say a lot less -- I wouldn't say anxious is the right word, but I've been through it before. I know what it feels like to watch my son [play Little League] as an unemployed man at the moment and know what that feels like,” Castellanos said. “And it's just -- I would just say I'm much more at ease with the whole process. I understand it, and I'm going to sit back and enjoy it.”
Castellanos spoke with the local Reds media after he won his first Silver Slugger Award, as announced on MLB Network on Thursday night, becoming the first Red to do so since Jay Bruce in 2013 and the only one of the club’s four nominees to win this season, with Joey Votto, Jonathan India and Jesse Winker falling short.
He didn’t turn down the notion of a reunion with the Reds, referring to the club as “we” when speaking of its strengths after being asked if he’d entertain a return. Technically, Castellanos could still do so by accepting the qualifying offer Cincinnati put on his desk, though he’s not expected to do so and has reportedly already has made up his mind not to.
“Would I entertain the Reds? Of course I would. Why wouldn't I? I feel like there's still a lot of valuable pieces that are very good to win with,” Castellanos said. “Jonathan India … Jesse Winker is coming into his own, figuring out who he is, figuring out what kind of father he wants to be, he's doing a great job at that. Joey Votto just reinvented himself. We still have pitching. We still have pieces. Why wouldn't I entertain it?”
Should Castellanos sign elsewhere, the Reds would receive Draft compensation.
Whichever team gets Castellanos will get a slugger tirelessly dedicated to his craft. The 29-year-old has ditched his smartphone (he Zoomed with the local media from his son Liam’s Little League game on his wife Jessica’s iPhone), has a 124 OPS+ over the past three seasons and could command a lengthy contract, given he’s not set to turn 30 until less than a month before Opening Day.
But no performance may be more important than his Silver Slugger campaign in 2021.
“Well, obviously I prepared a lot. I got my head right, I knew what I wanted to do, I figured out in the offseason how I wanted to do it,” Castellanos said. “Even more so of understanding that I have to get rid of as many distractions as I can -- that's a big reason why I chose to drop my smartphone and stuff, just to lock it in, you know? See what could happen.”
Now he, and the entire baseball world at large, will wait to see what might happen this winter.