In December, news came out that the Detroit Tigers had approached right fielder Nicholas Castellanos with a possible extension offer. The hard-hitter, who had played third base for the bulk of his major league career, declined the offer. It was evident, at the time, that Castellanos wanted to test his luck in the open market, like the man who preceded him in right field: J.D. Martinez.
This would likely prove to be a big mistake for Castellanos.
The 2017-18 offseason has been among the strangest in recent memory. As Opening Day approaches, with just over a week of spring training left, names like Alex Cobb are just finding a landing spot. Closer Greg Holland remains unsigned. Jake Arrieta didn’t snag a contract until March 11. J.D. Martinez himself sat on the shelf for months.
While some of the blame for this might rest on the agents, there are also strong signs that the tides are turning as far as baseball contracts go. Players like Castellanos who are approaching free agency would be wise to take note. The time of big payday contracts — especially for flawed players — might be over.
Let’s take a look at this little number crunch.
Fun Fact: This offseason, Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Todd Frazier, Addison Reed, Anthony Swarzak, Mike Moustakas, and Seung-hwan Oh have signed contracts for a combined 183.25 million dollars.— Mike (@ChiSoxFanMike) March 12, 2018
In 2015, the Cubs signed Jason Heyward by himself to a 184 million dollar contract.
Guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Jonathan Lucroy, who turned down extension offers in 2017, ended up signing for well below their club’s original offers. With big names like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper hitting the market in the 2018 offseason, there may not be a huge market for moderately successful hitters with a terrible defensive record.
Castellanos won’t be a free agent until the 2020 season, and could certainly become trade fodder for the Tigers before that. But the team seem to have faith in his long-term development, at least offensively. Given the changing face of the free market, and the Tigers hope for turning the team into something competitive by 2020 or 2021, it’s not unlikely that they view Castellanos as a part of that future winning franchise. Castellanos, by turning down the Tigers initial extension offer, has made it clear he wants to bet on himself.
But that was before the abysmal offseason that saw the MLB Players Association pitted against the Commissioner’s office, and gave rise to professional agents posting public statements about the state of the industry. For the first time in recent memory, free agents were forced to make their own training camp in order to hone their skills ahead of the season, in case they were called up for a job.
There’s no telling how things will play out in the coming offseason, or what the market will look like by the time Castellanos reaches free agency. But if he and his agent are smart, they will at least take a serious listen if the Tigers approach him again with another extension offer.
Look at what happened this offseason to players who rejected club offers. Carlos Gonzalez was reportedly offered a 3-year $45 million contract by the Rockies and declined, only to sign in March for $8 million for one season. Jonathan Lucroy was similarly offered a deal by the Rockies for $21 million over three years, but declined, and will be paid $6.5 million to play one year with the Oakland Athletics. Now, Gonzalez is 32 and Lucroy is 31, while Castellanos will only be 28, but they should serve as cautionary tales for players wanting to test the free agent waters.
If Castellanos wants to try his luck, that is certainly his right as a player, and no one would begrudge him for betting on himself and waiting out a big payday. If he continues to break out offensively in the next two seasons, perhaps there will be high demand for him. He has the speed to play quality corner outfield, and he clearly believes he’ll be solid there. But the odds of him suddenly emerging as a complete player as a right-fielder aren’t particularly great. He’s a bat first player; bordering on bat only.
A smart player would be paying close attention to what happened this offseason, and ask themselves if they have what it takes to make the big money contract, or if there would be a benefit to accepting a four year team-friendly extension that will guarantee them income, raise their average salary immediately over their likely arbitration figures, and give them a consistent place to play.
Castellanos will probably listen to his agent, who will tell him to bet big, but he might be wise to take an extension offer instead.