Nick Castellanos became as beloved as a Chicago Cubs player possibly can in just two months, thanks in large part to his absurd performance in the second half of 2019, but also in part to his particular zest for the game of baseball. He’s a guy whose energy and enthusiasm – and great turns of phrase – are just infectious. You want him on your team.
Heading toward an opt-out decision after this season, Castellanos, who doesn’t turn 30 until March, is hitting a whopping .331/.384/.585 (156 wRC+), and just started in the All-Star Game. The Cubs loved Castellanos, and he loved his time with the Cubs. So if the opt-out does happen, as expected, you can figure there will be some more flirtations in free agency. Whether the Cubs actually step up with a significant offer this time around, after crying poor last time, remains to be seen. And whether Castellanos still harbors any particular affection for playing with the Cubs also remains to be seen.
In the meantime, here’s something to chew on. The Athletic asked various All-Stars what was THE moment that transformed them from whatever they were before into the All-Stars they are now. You’re gonna get real wistful when you read what Castellanos said:
You get to a sad place in baseball where you’re playing just for statistics and that’s a terrible way to go about playing a game of failure. Getting traded to Chicago and all of a sudden being in a place where winning was important and the fans were 100 percent behind us and rooting for us, that was like playing a brand new game. I felt movement, I moved different, I ran different, I handled situations differently, I became different. That’s the adjustment. When you’re there just thinking about balling out and playing with your friends, it’s totally different.
First of all, just an extremely Castellanos-like thing to say. Second of all, it showed. From day one with the Cubs – and this was actually something that was speculated about IN ADVANCE of the trade – you could tell he was re-energized by playing with a winning team for the first time in his career. It makes a difference to a lot of players, especially when you can feel the fans behind you. For Castellanos, that helped his game click just a bit more (together with some substantial offensive development that was already happening, let’s be honest).
So will any of that still matter this offseason? Well, again, it depends on whether Castellanos actually opts out (he’s otherwise owed $34 million over the next two years (or $52 million over the next three), so I think an opt out is highly likely), and whether he still feels good about coming to the Cubs.
For their part, the question is whether the Cubs are even looking to sign a guy like Castellanos at this time. The defense in the corner outfield spots (especially at Wrigley Field) would be dodgy, but NL teams are highly likely to have the DH available in 2022 and beyond. Castellanos figures to be attached to a qualifying offer, which is a consideration, though the Cubs are not over the luxury tax – and will likely have their own qualifying-offer-generated picks going in the other direction – so the pain from signing a qualified free agent will go down. Financially, the money should be there for signings of Castellanos’s caliber.
Even if you set aside any of the emotional/fan/energy stuff, here’s the reality about Castellanos, which was true in 2019 and is still true now: he’s a high-swing-rate, low-strikeout-rate, extreme-line-drive guy, who brings a very different type of bat to this Cubs lineup. There are reasons to want the Cubs to make this type of move no matter what, especially if they are not engaging in the kind of rebuild that they affirmatively want to lose in 2022. You have the opportunity to get a guy like Castellanos only when he’s available, and the Cubs are lucky he’s likely to be available again.