Baseball

We Know Your Nature – 2019 Cubs Player Reviews: Nicholas Castellanos

And now the big debate. It’s actually a couple rolled into one. Is Nicholas Castellanos the player he showed for the two months he was a Cub? Is he what came before that? Is he what the final numbers on 2019 with both Detroit and Chicago say? Somewhere in-between? And then you add to those questions whether he should be re-signed or not. It’s a lot to figure out, and that’s before getting into the Cubs’ figment budget questions that they’ve made real.

2019 Stats (DET & CHI)

151 games  664 PAs

.289/.337/.525

27 HR  73 RBI

6.2 BB%  21.5 K%

121 wRC+  .357 wOBA  .883 OPS

-12.6 Defensive Runs Saved   2.8 WAR

Tell Me A Story: You could say that Castellanos was THE story for the Cubs last year, at least on the positive side. He came in at the trade deadline and immediately started hitting, and never really stopped. He inarguably brought a jolt to the Cubs, and they were a team that definitely could have used it. Castellanos was certainly more explosive than either Almora or whoever else he actually replaced in the lineup by pushing Heyward to center.

If you were to only look at his numbers with the Cubs in the last two months, he looks like an MVP candidate. .321/.356/.646 for an OPS of 1.002 and an OPS+ of 151. As Castellanos himself pointed out, the more friendly environs of Wrigley made a difference in his home run production, as he hit 16 in the season’s final two months after hitting only 11 in the first four in Detroit. And half of them came at home, so over a full season that projects out to over 40 homers and near 50 for a season. Of course, Castellanos isn’t going to ever match the 32% HR/FB rate he had in August as a Cub. But even the 14% he had in September was higher than anything he did in Detroit last season, and above his career rate.

What Castellanos did do, regardless of where he was playing, is hit the ball damn hard. He had a hard-contact rate over 40% every month of the season, which the Cubs simply don’t have a lot of. Only he and Schwarber eclipsed that mark for the whole year. For comparison’s sake, the Dodgers had nine guys who did. The Astros seven. Maybe the problem isn’t the amount of contact, fellas?

And that’s just about the story with Nic At Nite. There wasn’t that much of a change from the Tigers to the Cubs. He mashed fastballs and sinkers there, and he did so here, and with a slice more luck and a smaller park, the numbers swelled. He’s a good hitter who got hot and he will almost certainly remain a good hitter.

A key aspect to the Castellanos debate is his defense. It was better in ’19 than it was in ’18, and there isn’t nearly as much ground to cover in Wrigley as there is in Comerica, even if you have to deal with the sun and wind and Ryker from Highland Park throwing beers at you. But it still wasn’t good, The optimistic will tell you it was only his second season playing there and the improvement from ’18 to ’19 will only continue. The pessimistic will tell you he looks awkward as fuck out there, his routes are Dali-esque, has next to no range, and he just doesn’t have a feel for it out there and probably belongs in left. Which probably means the truth is somewhere in the middle as always.

Contract: Free Agent

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Oh if it were only so simple. Yes, with no budget constraints-perceived or real or self-imposed or necessary–you’d re-sign Castellanos and have him and Schwarber in the corners to mash and you’d find a better solution in center to cover for their defense and maybe provide some offense and consign Heyward to the 4th outfielder role he’s been hurtling toward for four seasons. But life isn’t that simple.

These days, it’s impossible to know what Castellanos can make on the free agent market. A couple years ago, you’d be sure it was over $20M a year for five years at least. Now three years for between $51M-$54M seems the more likely, and even then who knows what the collusion owners will dictate.

But even at that $17M figure, it’s a tough squeeze for the Cubs. Even with just their arbitration raises as projected, the Cubs end up near $180M in payroll. And that’s if they don’t get to extend anyone with a bigger figure. And it could be more than that. That might leave somewhere between $35M-$40M to play with. But if you and Castellanos half of that, is $17M-$20M enough to get the extra starter and bullpen arm or two the Cubs need more desperately? It could be but would be a tight squeeze.

On the other side, having Castellanos on the team most certainly can’t hurt and if he’s anything close to the August-September guy, $17M is a bargain. If a third season sees his defense improve…maybe you can get away with it? Can you live with Heyward for a full season in center? Doubtful. Would you trade Schwarber? That’s production you’d have to find again and probably pay premium, either through money or trade, to do so. Isn’t that running in place?

On the plus side here, I don’t think there are any wrong answers. You can sign Castellanos and just say you’re going to bash the shit out of the ball and hope that’s enough to outrun your at-best subpar outfield defense. Or you can let him walk, use that money for the pitching you don’t have, and mitigate not having that offensive production. And maybe with a smart trade you can get some of it back anyway.

Looking at it though, Castellanos hits the ball awfully hard. The Cubs don’t. They’ll have to answer that somehow.

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