The Tigers have been willing to trade just about anyone on their roster for the past two years. They finally pulled the trigger on a number of deals last summer, trading many of their high-priced stars for prospects to jumpstart a long-avoided rebuild. J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, and Ian Kinsler have all been dealt in the past eight months, clearing over $100 million in payroll.
Nicholas Castellanos might be the next player to join them. The third baseman-turned-right fielder has already been mentioned in trade talks this offseason, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
With Detroit just kicking off its rebuild, now is the time to trade Castellanos. The team likely will not be a contender in Castellanos’ final two years of club control, and the 25-year-old has already rebuked extension offers. His value won’t get any higher over the next two years, and any regression would all but end the Tigers’ chances of netting a prospect or two in return.
While Castellanos’ defense remains a concern, his bat might be enough to entice a team that misses out on their first target to make a trade. Castellanos posted career-highs in several offensive categories last season, including home runs (26) and RBI (101), and he led the American League with 10 triples.
It may be his advanced metrics that make him attractive to potential trade partners, however. He ranked 10th in the majors in “barrels” last year, a Statcast metric that attempts to measure quality of contact. He was 12th with 199 batted balls at 95 miles per hour or above, tied with NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. FanGraphs’ batted ball numbers are even more favorable, putting Castellanos among the elite hitters in the game with a 43.4 percent hard-hit percentage. He also managed one of the lowest soft contact percentages in baseball.
In terms of value, it’s hard to see Castellanos improving his stock much over the next year. Every game he spends in a Tigers uniform saps his value, even if he offsets that by finally running into the breakout Tigers fans have hoped for. Plus, opposing teams are well aware of his stellar Statcast numbers, and will probably incorporate those into their trade valuations.
If the Tigers gamble and hold onto Castellanos, there’s a chance it blows up in their face. His bat has been fairly volatile over his four seasons in the major leagues, including some regression from 2016 to 2017. His glove has been a negative at third base and in the outfield, and will likely always be below average. If his bat falls back any more, he is little more than a replacement level player and opposing teams won’t even want to trade for him. Should he trip all over his feet in right field this season, he’ll also be a player without a position.
Given how slow this offseason has gone, it’s hard to see the Tigers trading Castellanos before spring training. Many teams are probably hoping that prices on free agents come down. We’re already seeing some of those players sign bargain contracts, and teams won’t want to part with their prized prospects if they can get equivalent value for equivalent money on the free agent market.
On the other hand, plenty of teams have already bypassed the free agent market to make trades instead of adding long term commitments to their payroll. Teams are doing everything to deal for help without giving up their top prospects. But, Castellanos isn’t going to cost anyone a blue-chip prospect, and there’s still improvement possible at the plate, particularly on a team with a more home run friendly park.
So, it’s in Detroit’s best interest to explore a trade right now. Like Jose Iglesias, Castellanos won’t be on the next Tigers contender. His value won’t get much higher, and could potentially get a lot lower if he gets off to a slow start this year. He has more value to the franchise as a trade chip than anything he will do on the diamond. If the Tigers can find the right deal for Castellanos, they should pounce.