We already expected it to be true based on the evaluations we can do from the outside, and every signal from there has pointed in the direction of confirming the fact, but now I think we can officially say: yes, the Cubs would like Nick Castellanos to be on the team in 2020.
There was always mutual interest, but it has long been tempered by the tricky positional fit (the Cubs aren’t super excited about the idea of making Jason Heyward the full-time center fielder, bookended by Kyle Schwarber and Castellanos), and the uncertainty of Castellanos’ contract as it relates to what the Cubs have to spend.
But now, the bulk of info out there strongly suggests that the Cubs could probably see their way to getting around the positional stuff if they could make the money work.
The latest, from Jon Heyman:
Cubs like Nick Castellanos but have told folks they need to do some things before seriously engaging him (@Ken_Rosenthal reported what they need to do is clear salary before even really considering it). Dbacks and #SFGiants are two of the teams linked to Castellanos.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 9, 2019
On the one hand, I dig that the Cubs see the bat – and the clubhouse energy – as such a great fit that they want to make it work. I agree! This is encouraging!
On the other hand, this bargaining position is consistent with the Cubs being mandated to get under the luxury tax – the rumor from the weekend – and with that, I do not agree. It is not encouraging!
To be sure, as an earlier signing – if a team were really aggressive on him – it’s always been the case that Castellanos’s market price might go higher than makes sense for the Cubs. If Castellanos can get a five-year deal of $90 million or more right now from the DBacks or Giants or some AL team that has the benefit of the DH? Hey, go with God and get yours, Nick.
Instead, it kinda always made more sense for the Cubs to stay in touch, see how the market reacted to Castellanos’s huge defensive questions, and if he were lingering on the market with expectations falling into the three or four-year range on a reasonable ($14 to $16 million AAV) salary, then maybe you pounce. On the right deal, your concerns about how to make him “fit” simply become a lot less practical. Thus, you wait.
The fact that a timeline like that is now also consistent with the Cubs wanting to explore trades first is gravy.
In other words, just like the overall rumor about the Cubs not negotiating with even lesser free agents until they move some money, it’s possible that’s just flat out true (and awful); but it’s also possible that it’s a pretty easy way to try to keep mid-tier free agents at bay while you work on trades. “Sorry, you cannot pressure us into signing right now because we have no money.” True or not, it works when the pool of free agents you’re looking at – guys you can kinda take or leave – is relatively deep.
We’ve focused mostly on the starting pitching side of this conversation, but it’s also theoretically true with a guy like Castellanos – not because he isn’t a very, very attractive bat, but instead because of those defensive/positional questions. Do the Cubs want him back? Clearly the answer is yes. Does bringing him back come with challenges and questions that make you more comfortable waiting and risking losing him to another team? That answer, too, is yes.
In other-other words, if Castellanos were to sign in the next couple weeks, it was likely going to be (1) for a lot of money and (2) not with the Cubs anyway, regardless of any team plans relative to the luxury tax. But if he is still looking for the right gig in a few weeks, and if the Cubs have explored the trade market to their satisfaction? Maybe there’s a conversation there.