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Should the Tigers trade or extend Nicholas Castellanos?

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The Tigers might look to trade their best player this offseason, but is that the right move?

Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Nicholas Castellanos is the Detroit Tigers’ best player. He was named the Tigers of the year by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America earlier this month. The right fielder received 19 of 20 first place votes, with one vote for reliever Joe Jimenez. Castellanos also led the Tigers in almost every major offensive category in 2018. He led the team with 23 home runs, 89 RBI, and 88 runs scored. Among those with at least 200 plate appearances, he led the club in batting average (.298), on-base percentage (.354), and slugging percentage, with an even .500 mark. He also led all Tigers in weighted on-base average (wOBA) at .363, and weighted runs created with +130.

Castellanos was also among the American League leaders in several categories. He ranked ninth in batting average, 13th in slugging, 19th in on-base percentage, and 12th in wOBA among qualified hitters. He was 14th in RBI, 20th in runs scored, and 30th in home runs. Even when his subpar defense is factored into the equation, Castellanos was one of the top 30 players in the league for the 2018 season, with 3.0 fWAR.

So, the Tigers have one of the best offensive players in the American League, but Castellanos is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent. He is projected to earn a salary of $11.3 million in 2019. That would make him the third-highest paid player on the team, behind Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann.

Even with Castellanos in the lineup, the Tigers were one of the worst offensive teams in the American League. With so few position players in the prospect pipeline, losing Castellanos in free agency next winter could be a big blow to their rebuild. Re-signing him might not be easy, though, as Castellanos has not shown any indication that he is willing to give the Tigers a hometown discount. The Tigers have discussed trading him as well, and the Houston Astros are among the teams potentially interested.

What should the Tigers do?

Here are their options.

Trade Castellanos

He would come with a price tag of roughly $11.3 million for one season. After that, he could be given a qualifying offer, which he would almost certainly decline in favor of finding a multi-year deal in free agency. Provided he is traded during the offseason, his new team would receive a draft pick as compensation.

The compensation would depend on which team is making the qualifying offer after the 2019 season. Detroit could keep Castellanos, make the qualifying offer at season’s end, and get a first or second compensation round draft pick, depending whether Castellanos signs for at least $50 million after declining the offer. Another smaller market club that is not paying a luxury tax would get the same. A larger market team would get a second round pick, while a luxury tax payer would get a fourth round pick, just as the Tigers would have gotten for J.D. Martinez back in 2017.

Start the bidding there. A team that acquires Castellanos is getting a young, affordable, high-quality bat, and the opportunity to collect a compensation pick after the 2019 season. There is solid value there. He is worth the value of a late first round pick, plus a few million dollars in savings compared to signing a free agent bat of his caliber.

The Tigers were apparently willing to trade Castellanos last season and found nothing of interest. As always, competition among interested parties is the key to maximizing trade return. If he is viewed as a designated hitter, interest in a trade could be limited. Still, he could be an important piece to a team looking to contend next season, and the Tigers have no reason to accept being lowballed.

Keep Castellanos

...by signing him to a contract extension. With Victor Martinez retiring, the Tigers have a need for a designated hitter. Castellanos is not the only player qualified for a no-defense role, but he is arguably the player most in need of one. He could serve as the team’s primary DH, or split time with another player(s).

Here are some free agent comparisons for Nick Castellanos.

Free agent outfielders (2017- 2018 seasons)

Player Age wOBA fWAR Status
Player Age wOBA fWAR Status
Lorenzo Cain 32 0.353 9.9 Signed 5 yrs x $ 16M
Justin Upton 31 0.363 8.4 Signed 6 yrs x 22.1M
Andrew McCutchen 32 0.353 6.3 Est 3 yrs x 15M
Michael Brantley 32 0.352 5.01 Est 3 yrs x 15M
Marwin Gonzalez 29 0.349 5.6 Est 4 yrs x 12M
Nick Castellanos 26 0.352 4.6 Est 1 yr x 11.6M
Josh Reddick 32 0.336 4.6 Signed 4 yrs x 13M

Castellanos’ .352 wOBA is comparable to Cain, Brantley, McCutchen, and Gonzalez over the past two seasons. Those players have all posted a higher fWAR during that span. Castellanos tallied 4.6 fWAR, but he is also just 26 and has steadily improved at the plate each season.

Over 50outfielders have signed multi-year contracts for at least $13 million in annual salary. However, many were solid defenders with similar offensive output, and most were free agents. An extension that includes a year of team control would be discounted further. The vast majority of players opt to test the free agent market.

Victor Martinez had the highest annual salary given to a designated at $17 million for four years. Although the Tigers overpaid Victor coming off a second-place MVP finish in 2014, his value was exclusively at the plate. The next highest multi-year contracts given to DHs were Nelson Cruz and Travis Hafner, who both signed for $14.25 million per year. Whether Castellanos becomes a full-time DH or not, that’s probably how he should be compensated.

Tigers’ general manager Al Avila discussed a possible extension with MLB.com.

“It’s something we have to figure out: Will he be here when we’re ready to contend for the playoffs? That’s the big question,” Avila said. “If you could tell me in the next couple of years we’re going to be a team that’s going to the postseason, then it would be easy to answer that and keep Nick around. He’s a great hitter.

”Right now, we’re trying to assess how that could fit, if that could fit. I even had that conversation with Nick. It’s a work in progress right now. I can’t say that will happen this winter, though we aren’t ruling it out 100 percent. We would still have next year to look at that. That’s a question right now that’s hard to answer.”

Castellanos is one of few players that the Tigers have drafted and developed into a productive major league starting player. The club hasn’t signed a player under contract to an extension into his free agent years since Miguel Cabrera. What the Tigers do with Castellanos could signal how serious they are about winning, in the present or the future. Letting Castellanos walk, or dealing him for the kind of meager package that J.D. Martinez brought would not bring the Tigers any closer to putting a winning team on the field.

Poll

What should the Tigers do with Nick Castellanos?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Sign him to a multi-year extension
    (238 votes)
  • 3%
    Let him leave as a free agent after 2019
    (25 votes)
  • 13%
    Trade him for whatever they can get
    (94 votes)
  • 49%
    Trade him, but only for a great return
    (353 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (5 votes)
715 votes total Vote Now