For all the talk about how much he raised his profile and who represents him, Nicholas Castellanos might not come close to breaking the bank this winter. That’s according to the folks at FanGraphs, whose staff and crowdsourcing efforts arrived at the same four-year, $56 million projection for the artistic right fielder. Even if he falls off from his late-season Cubs performance, which is almost certain, that seems like a pretty palatable contract.
It also seems really light given the overall lack of impact talent available in this year’s free agent class. For example, 36-year-old Brett Gardner is listed at No. 21 and 38-year-old Adam Wainwright is eight spots lower. Neither is projected to earn more than a one-year deal. If Castellanos’ value is suppressed by the skewed market and concerns over his defense, expected a protracted courtship that drags through the offseason.
Castellanos will turn 28 in March, so he’s still at the back end his athletic prime and won’t be too far past it by the time the deal expires. Neither the money nor the length would hamstring even a team with somewhat limited financial resources, since he’s really only got to average about 2 WAR per season to be worth it. That’s using a conservative value of each incremental player win being worth $7 million, a figure that would have made him worth $40.6 million over the past two seasons.
Kiley McDaniel, who spearheaded the rankings and estimates for FanGraphs, had the following rationale behind the contract estimate:
Castellanos is very young for a free agent bat, so he may get a longer-term deal than his track record would suggest. Still, he’s posted a -28 DRS and -17.6 UZR in two full seasons as a corner outfielder, and if teams think that is his true talent level in the field, they may not be comfortable with whatever his glove will be in 2023.
Concerns about the glove were evident in a subsequent note that referred to Castellanos as “someone whose bat may be just enough to compensate for his poor defense if put in the right situation.” Defense doesn’t age well, which may scare off NL teams that can’t stash Castellanos in a corner outfield spot. He’s not penalized by draft-pick compensation, though, so that should help his market.
Another concern, one expressed recently by CI‘s Ryan Thomure, is that Castellanos may not maintain the pop necessary to make up for a contact-heavy plate approach. Though it certainly wasn’t evident during his time in Chicago, he’s not really known for hitting a bunch of homers. Getting away from Comerica Park should continue to help him into the future, but a little drop in bat speed could make really make his relative dearth of walks harder to cover up.
Other teams evaluating Castellanos with the same critical eye as the folks at FanGraphs would make a return to Chicago more likely, especially since the Cubs have reportedly made the outfielder a priority. The organization was enlivened by the energy Castellanos brought to the field and clubhouse over two months in blue pinstripes, and both his game and attitude seem tailor-made for Wrigley Field.
In addition to the forgiving power alleys that cater to his offensive approach, the smaller outfield mitigated the subpar defense lamented above. Surely, both Castellanos and agent Scott Boras are as well aware of those fits as the Cubs are. While that alone isn’t enough to facilitate a reunion at a discounted rate, it’s going to keep the Cubs in the conversation until the end.
Ed. note: MLB Trade Rumors’ prediction is that Castellanos will remain in Chicago for four years and $58 million…from the White Sox.