As busy as the Yankees have been this offseason, they still have room in their lineup for one more bat. In a perfect world that bat would be Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. It’s not often you can sign a 26-year-old superstar caliber player. The Yankees seem content to let Harper and Machado go to other teams. It’s disappointing. It really is.
Machado and Harper are not the only bats on the market. Mike Moustakas and Marwin Gonzalez continue to sit in free agency, though they qualify as good hitters more than great hitters. I’m sure the Mariners would love to unload Edwin Encarnacion and his $25M salary. He was a devastating hitter not too long ago. There are bats available. For sure.
Among those available bats is Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos, who authored a .298/.354/.500 (130 wRC+) batting line with 23 homers as the only real threat in Detroit’s lineup last year (Miguel Cabrera missed 124 games to injury). The Tigers are expected to trade Castellanos, an impending free agent, at some point this year. His agent told Anthony Fenech he hopes the trade happens soon.
“He wants to win and understands the direction of the franchise right now is to procure prospects,” Castellanos’ agent, David Meter, said Tuesday night. “That being said, he would rather start with his new club going into spring training.”
I get why Castellanos wants to be traded as soon as possible — it must absolutely stink knowing you’re going to traded but have no idea where to or when it’ll happen — but the Tigers are not obligated to move him now. They’ll wait for the right deal, then act. Castellanos’ agent voiced his opinion for the record and that’s that. The Tigers will do what’s best for them when the time is right.
The Yankees already have four outfielders (Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton) for the three outfield spots and DH, plus Clint Frazier and the maybe possibly but probably not healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, so adding another outfielder is not a priority. The Yankees could make it work though, and Castellanos is really good. Let’s talk this out a bit.
1. Castellanos does what the Yankees like. As previously noted, the Yankees love players who hit the ball hard and hit the ball in the air. Last season Castellanos had the sixth highest hard contact rate (47.9%) and the 21st lowest ground ball rate (35.4%) among the 140 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. His Statcast profile:
Outs above average is defense. We’ll talk about that in a bit. The offensive numbers are very promising. Great contact quality and great expected results. Castellanos doesn’t walk much (7.2% in 2018) but he’s cut down on strikeouts (22.3%) and he punishes the ball. Also, he’s 26. He turns 27 in March. That is an age when players often break out or have a career year. Whoever gets him might be buying the single best year of his career.
Furthermore, few right-handed hitters use the opposite field as well as Castellanos. He hit the sixth most fly balls and line drives to right field among righty hitters the last three years. (No. 1 on that list: DJ LeMahieu.) Here are Castellanos’ fly balls from 2016-18. This spray chart looks like it belongs to a left-handed pull hitter.
Think that’ll play in Yankee Stadium? The hard-hit tendencies, the non-grounder tendencies, and the opposite field tendencies make Castellanos a marvelous fit for the short porch. The kid can hit. He was a highly regarded prospect who went through some growing pains and is now blossoming into a middle of the order force. Every team could use someone like that, including the Yankees.
2. Where would they put him? Castellanos is a brutal defensive player according to both the numbers and the eye test. He started his career at third base, and when his glovework at the hot corner became untenable, the Tigers moved him to right field, where he hasn’t been any better. Some numbers:
- 2016: -11 DRS (at third)
- 2017: -14 DRS (at third)
- 2018: -19 DRS (in right)
For all intents and purposes, Castellanos is a DH. The Yankees would have to put Stanton in left field full-time and move Gardner to the bench to make this work. I suppose they could use Castellanos at third or in right in a pinch, but, generally speaking, he should not be counted on to play defense.
The other option is first base, a position Castellanos has never played as a professional. The Yankees would have to give him a crash course at first base in Spring Training. That’s not ideal. My preference would be putting him at DH and letting him rake. Don’t put more on his plate and expect him to learn a new position. Not as a one-year rental. Get as much out of him as possible and move on.
3. The price might be dropping. According to Fenech, Detroit’s asking price for Castellanos is “believed to be one top-level prospect.” The Dodgers and Braves reportedly had interest in Castellanos earlier this winter and they’ve since signed A.J. Pollock and re-signed Nick Markakis, respectively. Some potential suitors are likely out of the running now, meaning the bidding war may not be as intense.
That said, Castellanos is quite good, and I imagine several other teams remain in the hunt. The Indians, Phillies, and Rockies jump out as potential landing spots. If the Tigers are truly seeking just “one top-level prospect,” man, that sounds wonderful to me. The Yankees are in to win it in 2019. Estevan Florial for one year of Castellanos? Jonathan Loaisiga? Albert Abreu or Domingo Acevedo or Deivi Garcia? I’m not sure I could say no to any of that, especially the pitchers.
Keep in mind the Yankees could potentially recoup a draft pick when Castellanos leaves as a free agent after the season. Not a high one — the Yankees will get a pick after the fourth round for losing a qualified free agent next winter because they’re going to pay luxury tax — but a pick nonetheless. That equals an extra prospect and extra bonus pool space. Give up a prospect to get Castellanos and the cost could potentially be offset somewhat by a compensation pick next year.
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The Tigers avoided arbitration with Castellanos prior to the salary filing deadline earlier this month and will pay him $9.95M in 2019. Following the Sonny Gray trade, Cot’s has the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll at $213.2M. (I have them at $221M but my estimates for various things are more conservative.) Add Castellanos and his $9.95M salary and the Yankees are still under the $226M second luxury tax tier, per Cot’s. It could work. On the field and in the books.
The downside here is Castellanos stinks defensively and is yet another right-handed bat in a lineup loaded with right-handed bats. But, as I’ve been saying, I’d rather add a great right-handed bat than a good left-handed bat who balances the lineup. Consider the possibilities:
- RF Aaron Judge
- CF Aaron Hicks
- LF Giancarlo Stanton
- DH Nick Castellanos
- 3B Miguel Andujar
- C Gary Sanchez
- 2B Gleyber Torres
- 1B Luke Voit
- SS Troy Tulowitzki
I know Judge will never hit leadoff but damn that’s a fun lineup, isn’t it? That leaves Gardner and LeMahieu on the bench. Gardner can replace Stanton for defense in the late innings, and, if Tulowitzki doesn’t cut it, Gleyber can move to short and LeMahieu can take over at second base. Either way, there is thunder up and down that lineup. Would be fun.
Castellanos is not Machado or Harper — by wRC+, his best season would be Machado’s fourth best season and Harper’s fifth best season — but he is a quality hitter who profiles well in Yankee Stadium. He can’t play defense (or run the bases) and he is another righty bat, but Castellanos would make the Yankees better and deeper. And, if the asking price is “one top-level prospect,” gosh, that might be too good to pass up for a team in position to contend for the World Series.