Nicholas Castellanos is pretty clearly the top remaining free agent available. Depending on how you feel about second-level players like Yasiel Puig or Brock Holt, he's possibly the only clear starter-quality-for-a-contending-team free agent still out there. That status alone makes Castellanos desirable, and there are a few other positive factors in his favor:
- He's young. He turns 28 in March. He's only a few weeks older than Aaron Judge.
- No qualifying offer. Since he was traded mid-season, he wasn't eligible for one. That means a team won't have to sacrifice a Draft pick to sign him.
- He mashed with Chicago. He was a Top-30 hitter after the trade.
So that all helps, but there are some questions here, too. For example, yes, he did hit .321/.356/.646 (1.002 OPS) in two months with the Cubs, but he'd also hit just .273/.328/.462 (.790 OPS) in four months with the Tigers, and there's plenty of evidence that shows that his assertions that it was all about Comerica Park's dimensions were overblown. Defensively, he's well below average, and fits best on an AL team where the designated hitter is available.
That said, he's not unplayable in the outfield, and there's still some hope for mild improvement -- as we investigated last November, part of his problems may be about inexperience, since he spent so much time at third base. He's got only about one-third as many professional outfield innings as the similarly-aged Mike Trout. He didn't kill the Cubs out there, anyway.
Castellanos still seems likely to get a deal of around three years, but with who? Not every team needs an outfielder. Not every team still plans to make more additions after a busy winter. As we've previously done with free agents like Yasmani Grandal and Josh Donaldson, let's try to count down his best fits.
The reunion that just isn't going to happen
Well, Castellanos called Comerica Park "a joke," and it was clear that the team's reluctance to offer him a contract extension before he was traded was a source of consternation, and he was happy to talk about how the pennant race with the Cubs "brought out the best in [him]," and the 114-loss Tigers are not close to contending, and ... well, no. It's pretty safe to say this isn't going to be a fit.
The reunion that absolutely should have happened
Castellanos, as we noted, was fantastic for the Cubs. Both sides seemed to enjoy the partnership, and since the Cubs had made it through nearly the entire winter without adding a single Major League hitter, the fit seemed to be perfect for a return to Wrigley. But the Cubs reportedly couldn't find the space to add Eric Sogard, who got a mere $4.5 million from the Brewers, and this is why you keep hearing Kris Bryant trade rumors -- and Friday’s reported deal with Steven Souza Jr. another right-handed right fielder, almost certainly shuts the door on Castellanos coming back to the North Side.
The contenders that don't need him or can't fit him
28-15) Yankees, Twins, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Angels, D-backs, Astros, Nationals, Brewers, A's, Rays
Some of these teams just have absolutely nowhere to put him. The Red Sox, for example, have three starting outfielders and J.D. Martinez at DH, and even if they do trade Mookie Betts, they're not likely to then turn around and sign an outfielder to a big contract. The Phillies aren't going to want to play Bryce Harper or Andrew McCutchen in center, the Mets don't need another defensively-limited outfielder, and the Angels have Shohei Ohtani at DH, Justin Upton in left, and don't want to block the nearly-ready Jo Adell in right. The Brewers already signed Avisaíl García to go with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun. The D-backs added Kole Calhoun and extended David Peralta. The Rays traded for Hunter Renfroe and José Martínez while signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. So on, and so on.
You could maybe galaxy-brain your way to thinking that the Braves could add Castellanos on top of Ozuna, put Ronald Acuña Jr. in center, and discard Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, and/or Ender Inciarte, but this isn't a video game. It's probably not one of these teams.
The non-contenders who probably aren't a fit
14-11) Orioles, Pirates, Royals, Mariners
Castellanos talked a lot about how much he liked the pennant race with the Cubs. These four teams lost 398 games and none finished higher than fourth place. Next.
The team that needs an even bigger upgrade
Did the Padres do enough this winter to challenge the Dodgers? That's debatable, but what's not is that their outfield continues to be overstuffed. Just look at their depth chart, where they need to find room for Tommy Pham, Wil Myers, Josh Naylor, Manuel Margot, Trent Grisham, and Franchy Cordero. It's not that Castellanos isn't better than some of those names, because he is, but if San Diego is going to add another outfielder, it's going to require A) an obvious big step up, like Betts, and B) trading away Myers.
There's a fun argument to be made that Castellanos could also serve as the righty platoon partner that Eric Hosmer so badly needs, but not while Myers is still around.
The contender hopefuls who should probably be more interested
9-7) Rockies, Blue Jays, Indians
At this junction, it's hard to see either the Rockies (91 losses, no meaningful additions) or Blue Jays (95 losses, though with a completely rebuilt starting rotation, led by Hyun-Jin Ryu) as serious contenders. But each team believes they can make some noise, and there's enough star power on both rosters (Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, every son of a former Major Leaguer in Toronto, etc.) to believe they can outdo expectations in 2020.
Perhaps they can, but they could each certainly use a bat. Toronto has playing time available at DH (sorry, Rowdy Tellez), and can't possibly know what they'll get from Travis Shaw at first base, a position Castellanos has reportedly said he'd be willing to try. They could also play right fielder Randal Grichuk in center. As for the Rockies, we'll admit that Charlie Blackmon's presence in right field is a blocker, but maybe one of them could play left, there's right-handed first base time available, the offense isn't good enough as currently constructed, and really, is there any better way right now to help assuage Arenado's competitiveness concerns?
As for Cleveland, their issue is the same as it was last year, which is that their outfield simply isn't strong enough. Castellanos, in a lot of ways, would be an absolutely perfect fit, especially since the Twins added Donaldson and some pitching, and the White Sox have made their intentions to contend clear. That said, we've seen nothing connecting the two sides in what's been a very quiet winter for Terry Francona's team.
The rebuilders who could make an interesting splash
6-5) Giants, Marlins
It's fair to point out that these clubs also lost a lot of games last year -- 105 in Miami's case -- and don't seem terribly likely to make noise this year, either. But we're setting them into a separate category, simply because there's been something to connect the sides here; in November, we heard the Marlins might have him on their radar, and in December, there were rumors of interest from the Giants.
It still doesn't seem likely he ends up in either spot. Still, you can see the appeal. The Giants have an inexperienced and heavily left-handed outfield, while the Marlins have tried to upgrade baseball's lowest-slugging offense with Corey Dickerson, Jesús Aguilar, Francisco Cervelli and Jonathan Villar, attempting to support what's an interesting and talented young pitching staff. Castellanos was born in nearby Davie, Fla., and he graduated from high school in Ft. Lauderdale.
The contender who already made enough moves for one winter
4) White Sox
There's an argument that the White Sox, for everything they've done, are still a bat short, and also that that bat would best be served as a powerful right-handed right fielder, since the lefty-swinging Nomar Mazara has yet to have even a single league-average season and might be a platoon bat anyway. That said, adding Edwin Encarnación (in addition to Grandal, Mazara, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, and Steve Cishek, while retaining José Abreu) takes away any DH time, and GM Rick Hahn didn't make it sound likely any other big moves would be coming:
The three best homes for Castellanos
On paper, there's not an entirely obvious fit after the Reds signed outfielder Shogo Akiyama, because Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, and Nick Senzel are all also going to need playing time. Still, none of that stopped them from trying to sign Ozuna just a few days ago, before he chose the Braves.
That might mean they'd still make room for the somewhat similar Castellanos, and maybe that outfield glut isn't the problem it seems. After all, exactly none of the four outfielders we just named has had a full, productive, healthy Major League season. They all have Minor League options, and Cincinnati's lineup scored the sixth-fewest runs in baseball last year. Mike Moustakas alone isn't going to fix that. Let's not rule them out on this one yet.
It was extremely clear all winter that St. Louis was going to need to add some offense to an unimpressive lineup, but all they've done so far is to watch the departures of Ozuna, Martínez, and Randy Arozarena while adding Austin Dean. It's not like they don't have outfield options, of course; maybe top prospect Dylan Carlson arrives and breaks out, or Tyler O'Neill, or Lane Thomas, or Tommy Edman, or maybe Dexter Fowler finds the fountain of youth, or ... well, you get the idea. It's a ton of maybes. Adding Castellanos might make them the clear favorites in the Central.
Let's start by giving credit where it's due to Texas: They've done a very good job upgrading their pitching this winter, adding Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Joely Rodríguez. But they had the fourth-weakest set of position players in 2019, and having added only Todd Frazier and Robinson Chirinos (while trading away Mazara), they're projected to again have only the fourth-weakest set of position players in 2020. The pitching might be good enough, but the offense very much isn't.
Not only do they need the bat just in general, but the lineup construction makes the fit easy. Texas has been noisier than most about liking Castellanos at first base, where Ronald Guzman is no roadblock; Joey Gallo is penciled in at right field, but he can play any of the three outfield positions as well as first base; and even though Shin-Soo Choo will likely be the primary designated hitter, he's under contract for only one more season. This is why there's been so much talk connecting the two:
Unless Texas can really pull off an Arenado trade -- which seems pretty unlikely at this point -- there's only one more way to meaningfully upgrade their offense. Castellanos is a fit, in position, in need. This seems like the easy favorite for both sides.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Ballpark Dimensions podcast.