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Mailbag: What should the Tigers do with Nick Castellanos?

How will the Tigers address Nick Castellanos' performance? Are there trades on the way? These questions and more in this week's mailbag.

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With the Detroit Tigers offense bouncing back to an acceptable level of performance and James McCann still enjoying his honeymoon period as an everyday starter, a lot of the ire from the Tigers fanbase has fallen on third baseman Nick Castellanos. Sure, Castellanos isn't helping himself by hitting .221/.268/.333 this season, but he has been under the microscope for the better part of the last two weeks due to his sustained offensive slump.

Some fans want him demoted to the minor leagues. Others want him traded. The number of people who hold out hope that Castellanos will help the team contend this season is dwindling by the day. At 23, Castellanos has time on his side, and his track record suggests that he should rebound as he gets acclimated to the major league level. However, the Tigers are in a position to win this season, and a .601 OPS from their third baseman is not helping.

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I think part of the reason why the Tigers have stuck with Nick Castellanos so long this season despite a subpar performance at the plate is due to a lack of depth in their upper farm system. Castellanos is not hitting well right now, but the options behind him are Andrew Romine, Josh Wilson, and Jefry Marte. Romine is a better defender, but has a career .567 OPS. Ditto Wilson, who is only slightly better at .598. As lost as Castellanos has looked at the plate at times, he's still faring better this season with a .601 OPS in 250 plate appearances.

While there is no way to prove this, I wonder if all of the work Castellanos put in to improve his defense during the offseason took his attention away from his offensive development. Castellanos is noticeably better with the leather this year, but his bat has looked no different from year one to year two.

That said, you would expect a slight uptick in offensive production as the year goes on. Castellanos is batting .191/.240/.213 in June, and has lowered his OPS by nearly 50 points in the last two weeks. His pitch recognition is still an issue, and his walk and strikeout rates have held steady from 2014. I think that he could benefit from a couple weeks in Toledo, but whether that will have an immediate impact is up for debate. I have faith in Castellanos putting it together in the long run, but whether the organization does remains to be seen.

The Tigers may trade for a starting pitcher this July, but I think their motives are a bit different this season. The mega-rotation is gone, and Shane Greene has proven to be one large question mark at the back end. The Tigers have flexibility in both him and Alfredo Simon, who has been used out of the bullpen in the past. While I would not say that the Tigers need to upgrade their rotation, it makes more sense to get a starter than it did last season (David Price awesomeness notwithstanding).

Availability is another issue with this year's crop of available trade targets. Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir are two names that have been floated around most often, and both are set to become free agents at the end of the season. Cole Hamels may also be up for sale, but the Tigers don't have the pieces to match Ruben Amaro's ludicrous asking prices. They may well add a rental and re-sign him after the season is over, though the going rate for free agent starting pitchers is rising exponentially.

Knuckleballs have more movement and are more difficult to hit than changeups, but they are far more difficult to master. A pitcher can develop more command with his changeup than he would ever hope of having with the knuckleball, making it easier to throw in any count. The changeup's more consistent movement pattern makes it an ideal pitch when facing opposite-handed hitters because of the down-and-away fade. A pitcher will also have an easier time mimicking the arm speed of his fastball when throwing a changeup compared to a knuckleball, which is the goal of either pitch in this scenario.

Most pitchers who throw a knuckleball consistently use it as their primary pitch. R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays is the most prominent knuckleballer in today's game, while you may remember pitchers like Tim Wakefield or Phil Niekro, depending on how old you are.

Josh Turley, a pitcher for the Erie SeaWolves in the Tigers' system, is a rare example of a pitcher that uses a knuckleball as one of his secondary pitches. The 24-year-old Turley is 5-5 with a 3.18 ERA for Erie this season. His strikeout rates have not been particularly high during his minor league career, but he has been effective at every level he has pitched at so far.

The Tigers would have to go on a losing streak of epic proportions for the front office to consider selling David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline this year. They are still well within striking distance of the division lead, and the advent of the second wild card spot sets the bar even lower for when teams will consider themselves "buyers" at the trade deadline. There are only a handful of teams in baseball right now that are clear "sellers," and some of them may not even do that if their ownership meddles too much.

With an aging but talented roster, the Tigers will likely go for broke again at the deadline. They have been particularly aggressive in the last couple seasons, with last year's moves teetering ever closer to the "win now at all costs" mentality. While the David Price trade turned out well, we saw what kind of an effect losing Austin Jackson had on the Tigers' production in center field. The Tigers also traded away a healthy amount of cost-controlled pitching, including Drew Smyly and consensus top-100 prospect Jake Thompson. With little to no enticing talent in the minor leagues, the Tigers may once again have to dip into their major league depth to make a move happen this season.


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