Sahadev Sharma today put out one of those pieces that is ostensibly about a particular subject – the Cubs and free agent Nick Castellanos – but actually winds up working you through a variety of related roster, business, positional, and financial considerations.
It’s a good read, and I encourage you to check it out (even if it won’t make you happy):
A reunion between the Cubs and Nicholas Castellanos doesn’t seem likely for numerous reasons. https://t.co/kb99X2W0Oo
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) November 14, 2019
None of the hurdles to re-signing Nick Castellanos should be especially shocking to you, but it’s the way they coalesce together and make things challenging – unless there are other changes – that makes things interesting.
There’s the money, obviously, though I’d point out that Castellanos’s price tag is far from clear, and, if he lingers on the market, it could wind up being surprisingly low if there are no NL teams that buy his defense. There’s that defense, which may not be an issue in isolation, but does make you nervous when it’s pushing Jason Heyward to center field full-tine. And there’s the presence of Kyle Schwarber in the other corner spot, where he’s very likely locked in.
It’s on that last hurdle that I want to linger a bit for our purposes here. Again, if you want the full skinny from Sharma on why re-signing Castellanos is a “probably not,” read his piece.
In a world where the Cubs are uncomfortable with Heyward full-time in center field (a fair perspective, in my opinion), then you’re left with a Schwarber-or-Castellanos choice in left field. And unless you thought you could get a haul for Schwarber in trade, then it’s really not a difficult choice – because you’re choosing Castellanos at like four years and $70 million (or whatever), or Schwarber at two years and $16 million (or whatever).
The offense, you say? Well, it’s closer than you might have thought. For the full season in 2019, they were almost identical performers at the plate:
Moreover, Steamer projects .253/.353/.526 (123 wRC+) in 2020 for Schwarber, and just .275/.331/.489 (111) for Castellanos.
Throw in the fact that they were both on an obscene tear in the second half, but with Schwarber walking much more, not striking out THAT much more, and making much more hard contact? I’m really not so sure that Schwarber isn’t the better bet – maybe much better bet – to be the better offensive performer in 2020.
Then consider this, from Sharma:
“To start the season, Schwarber decided to go back to what worked for him in college and the minors, when he was at his most comfortable and successful. That meant Schwarber was no longer overthinking things in the box. Instead of worrying about mechanical changes that hadn’t worked, he was more present in the box. By July, he started to turn a corner. And as success came, his confidence grew. Finally, in the season’s final months, the Cubs saw the player they’d been dreaming about for years.
Schwarber’s power was still there and he started grinding through tough at-bats, which led to an improved batting average (he hit over .300 in the season’s final two months) and better numbers against upper-echelon pitching.
On a team that both swings and misses at high fastballs and chases breaking balls too often, Schwarber has become better than league average in both categories. He actually chases breaking balls out of the zone significantly less often than Castellanos and swings and misses at high heat just slightly more often.
The Cubs are buying that version of Schwarber is here to stay.”
It’s not like Schwarber hasn’t always had that level of offensive potential. In the minors, he wasn’t a “slugger.” He was a “fantastic hitter” – better overall than even Kris Bryant was.
So, I guess mostly I just wanted to take this opportunity to turn a “oh no they can’t sign Castellanos” into a compliment for Schwarber. The Cubs believe in his bat. I believe in his bat. And he really showed it last year.
From August 1 on, Schwarber hit a ridiculous .304/.394/.649, with an 11.6% BB rate, a 24.7% K rate, a 163 wRC+, and a whopping 48.8% hard contact rate. Castellanos was right there with Schwarber on most of those fronts, but Schwarber had him easily beat on all but the strikeout rate (20.8%). And it’s not like Schwarber’s strikeout rate was egregiously high. That was just a killer two months from Schwarber.
As for Castellanos? Well, like I’ve said from day one: there is mutual interest there, and there is a fit for the bat. You never know for sure what else will happen on the roster, or what will happen to Castellanos’s price tag. Sometimes, the deal falls just so right that you have to take it, and figure out the positional machinations later. There’s a version of this team with both Schwarber and Castellanos that does work. I might doubt that it happens for all the reasons Sharma laid out, but let’s just let a couple months of the offseason play out and then recalibrate.