Sahadev Sharma this morning reports the good news and the bad news, neither of which are entirely unexpected.
Yes, the Cubs are still interested in reuniting with free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, and, yes, there is still mutual interest there. Hooray!
No, the Cubs “can’t” currently afford to re-sign Castellanos, and there might also not be a positional fit at present.
There are numerous hurdles in place, but both the Cubs and Nicholas Castellanos would embrace a return to the North Side. Why he would like to come back and how a sliver of hope on a return remains. https://t.co/eBSqpJMV1d
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 18, 2019
Read Sharma’s piece for the particulars, especially if you’re looking to get hopeful about having Castellanos back with the Cubs as a line-drive, gap-to-gap bat and clubhouse leader … and then have those hopes crushed by the series of realities necessary to actually bring him back.
Your most hopeful section: “Money matters, but all things being (nearly) equal, Castellanos is searching for a team ready to embrace him as a potential leader and one that is committed to building a winning culture. In his discussions with various organizations, Castellanos sees the Giants, Rangers and Cubs as three teams who value him for more than just his offense and that treat ‘clubhouse culture’ as more than just T-shirts and talking points.”
But, yes, money still matters.
A reminder that, although bringing back Castellanos is challenging for multiple reasons, and those challenges are not entirely about the financial side of the equation, the financial side is an issue. By all accounts at this point, the financial flexibility is not there to sign Castellanos to the kind of contract he’s going to get without other salary being first moved out. We have long known this to be true – no, there isn’t a “deal” already in place, but we’ve always thought that the Cubs and Castellanos might keep each other on the phone long enough to see what might happen after/if the Cubs do move a contract.
Imagine, however, that the Cubs are likely to trade Kris Bryant, irrespective of any Castellanos stuff (i.e., in a world where Bryant is being traded to acquire younger, more-controlled, more diverse talent). In that scenario, the money for Castellanos might just happen to open up organically in the coming weeks. Of course, even in that situation, if we presume the Cubs are refusing to go above the luxury tax – where they already sit – swapping out Bryant’s $18ish million salary for a similar Castellanos salary in 2020 would leave no room to address the rotation or the bullpen with additional spending. That’s not to say the Cubs couldn’t do it (indeed, they might have done so in the Bryant trade), but it’s a factor that complicates the financial side of this discussion.
And that isn’t even the more difficult issue! Instead, it’s the positional fit – discussed many times before – that is the bigger issue. The Cubs are not inclined to make Jason Heyward their everyday center fielder, and I actually don’t have a problem with that perspective. Historically, Heyward has shown himself to be passable in center, but elite in right. So if you move Heyward to center, and then bookend him with a couple guys who are likely to be below average in the corners, you’ve got the recipe for a really rough outfield defense (especially in the launch angle era).
As Sharma discusses, you’re not moving Heyward unless a ton of his salary is eaten, and I’d add that even that is a challenging trade to put together (limited pool of suitors, limited no-trade clause, etc.). Then there’s the prospect of trading Kyle Schwarber, but if you’re trading Schwarber to make room for Castellanos, how much are you really improving the offense? I know I’m a huge Schwarber homer, but it’s not as if that enormous offensive ability hasn’t always been there, and then showed itself in a very real way in the second half of 2019. (Also, it’s not at all impossible that Schwarber is actually a better defensive left fielder than Castellanos would be.)
I suppose what I’m tap-dancing around is the fact that Castellanos cannot return to the Cubs unless they find a way to trade Heyward or Schwarber (for huge value, damn it), or unless they decide they simply have to have Castellanos back regardless of the outfield fit.
Hey, maybe it’s one of those “get ’em all and figure it out later because sometimes guys gets hurt.” Financially, though, that seems an unrealistic hope.
Hey, maybe none of Castellanos, Schwarber, or Heyward starts every single day, and you find a way to coordinate the trio with a premium defensive center fielder (whoever that would be … ) and optimize match-ups on a day-to-day basis? Would that actually work, though? It’s hard to see, given that you’re going to want Castellanos in there every day, and he probably plays only right field at that point.
I am very happy to hear that Castellanos still would dig a return to the Cubs, and vice versa. His style of play, his line-drive stroke, his alley-to-alley power at Wrigley Field … it all just fits so very well for the Cubs at this moment in time. But I still struggle to see it realistically coming together, and it probably requires a Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber trade.