LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers have had Nicholas Castellanos on the trade market for more than a year in an effort to acquire more prospects. General manager Al Avila talked last season about letting Castellanos leave as a free agent next offseason and getting a Draft pick as compensation.
So after all this time with Castellanos seemingly destined to leave Detroit, could the two sides turn around and negotiate a contract extension that keeps Castellanos in town long term? It might not be far fetched.
“We really haven't engaged in any kind of those conversations,” Avila said Thursday morning. “I have told him that obviously these are things that we discuss on a regular basis. We haven't made any formal offer, nor have we talked formally about anything like that. But he knows that obviously it's in our minds, as it is in his mind. That's kind of where it's at.”
Avila’s openness follows similar comments from Castellanos a week and a half ago.
“I think both sides know at least the conversation would be welcome,” Castellanos said. “I think that’s where it’s at now.”
In other words, it’s an increasingly realistic option, as the idea of trading Castellanos for prospects becomes less so.
Castellanos’ openness to staying has been known for a while. He still has family in Detroit, he has a comfort level with the team and he has embraced his role as a team leader in the wake of the Tigers’ roster overhaul. Castellanos talked at length before the 2018 season about the appeal of spending his career with the franchise, like Al Kaline and Alan Trammell did.
“Like I said, that’s Plan A,” Castellanos said this month. “How many of us end up with Plan A? You have to be very lucky, talented and just fortunate, really. But whatever happens is going to happen.”
Castellanos just turned 27 this month. His statistics show a hitter on the rise, while his defense remains a point of improvement. Even if the Tigers take a few years on their rebuild, Castellanos could still be in his prime years.
The wrench in the works has been Detroit's timetable for a rebuild, and the idea of adding another contract obligation in the meantime. Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann are the only Tigers under long-term contracts, and Avila has pointed to after the 2020 season as a point when they could look at major free agents again. Coincidentally, that’s when Zimmermann’s contract is up.
With Detroit still looking long term -- and the pitching prospects that are expected to form the core of the rebuild still on their way up the farm system -- Avila is still trying to stockpile young talent. So far, though, the trade market for Castellanos has drawn comparisons to that for J.D. Martinez, who attracted limited interest two years ago before the Tigers traded him to the D-backs for three prospects. Shortstop Sergio Alcantara is 15th on Detroit's MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings, with second baseman Dawel Lugo ranked 18th.
At the same time, the slow free-agent market has changed the outlook for both sides, from the value of a qualifying offer the Tigers would have to make to receive a compensation pick to what Castellanos might earn on the open market. There’s less certainty about what would happen if the two sides simply let things play out this season and Castellanos walks.
With all that, there’s a door opening for mutual interest in an extension. The question is whether the Tigers and Castellanos, through agent David Meter, can find a middle ground on a deal. Even a shorter deal would allow Castellanos to revisit free agency before age 30.
Avila expects that door for talks to remain open during the season.
“I don't see why not,” Avila said. “He hasn't said anything to the contrary. I think he would be open to it. I'm not going to say it's not possible.”