Detroit Tigers: Why is Nick Castellanos still a Tiger?

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Nicholas Castellanos #9 of the Detroit Tigers in action during a game against the New York Yankee at Yankee Stadium on August 31, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Nicholas Castellanos #9 of the Detroit Tigers in action during a game against the New York Yankee at Yankee Stadium on August 31, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

This off-season may end up being remembered more for what didn’t happen than the things that actually did, and few things that didn’t happen are more surprising than the Detroit Tigers choosing not to trade Nick Castellanos.

It’s been a slow winter for most teams across Major League Baseball and the same can easily be said for the Detroit Tigers. The team has made a few small signings here and there but it’s mostly been pretty quiet. Even the moves that seemed obvious coming into the off-season have yet to be made. The most glaring of which is Nick Castellanos still being on the team. Why is Nick Castellanos still on this team?

He only has one more season before he reaches free agency and is coming off of a career year. The Tigers don’t have a prayer of being competitive in 2019 and yet for some reason, they have held onto their slugger.

This really doesn’t make a ton of sense as position players don’t typically fetch great returns mid-season as they approach free agency. The Tigers should have already learned this lesson after the pitiful package they received from the Diamondbacks after trading away J.D. Martinez a couple of seasons ago, and Martinez was a much better hitter than Castellanos.

There was buzz for a week or two that the market for Castellanos was heating up and there were reportedly several suitors. However, it seems that Al Avila and the front office are asking for an exorbitantly high price in return for Castellanos.

Trying to hold out for the best deal is all well and good but at some point, you have to do something before you end up with nothing. The team is allegedly seeking multiple top prospects in return for Castellanos, and if the price remains that high he could remain a Tiger all season.

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Let’s take a look at what a realistic return should be for Castellanos. While he did have an excellent season last year, it was not without warts. He produced a 130 wRC+ on offense, which was tied for the 25th best mark in baseball among qualifying hitters. He also accounted for -19 Defensive Runs Saved which was 5th worst in the game. All in all, he still produced a solid 3 Wins Above Replacement in 2018. However, teams are not going to pay for what he did last season, they want to pay for what they project him to do in 2019. Castellanos is currently projected by all the major systems to produce only 1.9 wins this season, and this is with an improvement in defense.

At that projection and assuming $8 million per win, Castellanos would be worth roughly $16 million next season. The Tigers will be paying him nearly $10 million which will give them about $6 million in surplus value. With that amount of value, the Tigers can realistically expect to receive one prospect with a 45 Future Value. This would typically be a prospect that develops into a quality bench or bullpen piece or a low-end regular, a far cry from what the team has reportedly been asking.

This kind of return would make you wonder whether it would behoove the Detroit Tigers to just hold onto him this year. They could see how 2019 plays out and offer Castellanos the qualifying offer after the season in order to receive draft pick compensation after he signs elsewhere as a free agent. After all, the compensation pick would likely be valued about the same as the prospect they would be able to bring back in trade.

In theory, this sounds logical and is likely the main reason the team hasn’t caved and shipped him out to the highest bidder. However, we have to take into account the terrible free agent market we’ve experienced over the past two winters. Specifically, the devaluing of Castellanos’ exact profile, slugging corner players without defensive value. Unless Castellanos has a J.D. Martinez type season in 2019, it may be hard for him to find a big contract on the open market next winter.

Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers /

Detroit Tigers

With that being said, if offered a qualifying offer somewhere in the one year $18 million range next off-season, Castellanos should be very tempted to accept. Look at Mike Moustakas a year ago, a similar player in a similar situation. He turned down the one year $17.8 million qualifying offer and had to settle for a one year $6.5 million deal instead. He had a similarly successful 2018 and had to settle for yet another one year deal this winter. Of course, it’s worth noting that Castellanos has been a better hitter than Moustakas, however, he is a much worse defensive player. Regardless, the market is just not there right now for this type of player and Castellanos and his agent should recognize that by now.

Perhaps the Tigers have taken this into account. After all, if Castellanos can hit the way he did in 2018, the club may have no issue bringing him back for 2020. Many of the talented young starting pitchers should be filtering through to the big leagues by then and a power hitting anchor in the lineup might be just what they need. At the very least, buying into the idea of bringing him back for the 2020 season should afford the front office the ability to not settle for too little in trade.

There is also the potential for the two sides to agree to an extension. We have seen multiple times over the past week that it is possible to work out an extension for a player with only a year remaining before free agency. As mentioned above, Castellanos is the kind of player that the Tigers will need in two or three years when they hope to climb back toward contention. One roadblock in the way of a potential long-term relationship between the Tigers and Castellanos is Miguel Cabrera and his albatross of a contract. Cabrera will be in Detroit for at least the next five seasons and he will likely need to DH. Castellanos should probably also be a Designated Hitter given his defense deficiencies, which might not make him the perfect fit for the Tigers moving forward. However, if the team believes in his bat enough, they may try to lock him up while they can.

The Tigers probably should have done everything in their power to move Castellanos this winter. Who knows, maybe they did, but now it seems more than likely that they hold onto him through at least the beginning of the 2019 season. Unless he tears up the American League through the first few months of the season, it would probably also benefit the team just to keep him the entire season and play their cards with the Qualifying Offer process.

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The Detroit Tigers had every right to hold their biggest trade chip until the right deal came along, but now they’re playing a risky game where they could end up with nothing.