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Let’s consider Nicholas Castellanos’ value in trade

Trade season is here, and the Tigers are running out of time to move their former top prospect.

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

At this point the story is pretty much written on Nicholas Castellanos. Once a prized prospect in the Tigers organization whom former general manager Dave Dombrowski allegedly refused to move in any sort of trade during the team’s window of contention, Castellanos has been a solid contributor but never much more.

He has certainly produced at the plate over the past six years, totaling a 110 wRC+, but his defense has always been an issue. A switch from third base to the outfield helped somewhat, but fielding will never be his calling card. Still, Castellanos would be a nice asset for many teams looking ahead to the playoffs.

The 27-year-old is apparently unhappy with Detroit and its lack of competitiveness over the past few seasons, and the hiring of agent Scott Boras signals that he will be looking for a payday come this offseason. While the Tigers could try to hold onto him and play for a compensatory pick following a rejected qualifying offer, the smart decision would be to move him before this year’s trade deadline.

Nicholas Castellanos overview

Season Avg HR wRC+ fWAR UZR/150
Season Avg HR wRC+ fWAR UZR/150
2014 0.259 11 95 0.4 -11.0
2015 0.255 15 94 0.5 -5.6
2016 0.285 18 119 2.4 -3.3
2017 0.272 26 112 1.6 -8.6
2018 0.298 23 130 3.0 -12.3
2019 0.282 9 113 1.1 -6.8

Honestly, there may not be a ton of value in rehashing all of Castellanos’s numbers, as he is a known quantity for most. He may not hit for a ton of power, but he should could surpass 20 homers for the third season in a row, and his last four years have been pretty solid offensively. A move to a better home run environment could help him, though expectations for a breakout are probably misplaced at this point. His fWAR is modest thanks to his defensive struggles, but any potential trade partners are truly trading for his bat.

A constant theme is that Castellanos has consistently underperformed relative to some of his raw metrics, which is evidenced by his 0.374 xwOBA from 2016-19 that sits higher than his .350 actual wOBA. Hitting the ball hard has never been an issue for him, and he has averaged just an 11.9 percent soft contact rate over this window. Both UZR and DRS do not love Castellanos, but defensive metrics are always finicky. 2018 did seem like his worse year in the field, but this season looks a little improved. Statcast’s outs above average (OAA) metric has him at negative five runs in right field this year, which sounds about right.

In 2019, Castellanos ranks 29th among outfielders in wRC+; since 2016, he ranks 26th. He is clearly someone that could slide into almost any lineup and is currently one of the best outfielders on the trade market. As a rental with an expiring contract, he represents the quintessential candidate for a move this July.

Historical comps

Every trade situation is different, but there have been a handful of recent outfielder moves at the deadline that give a glimpse into what a return for Castellanos could be. Below are just a few of the relevant trades for outfielders from the past three July’s.

  • Jay Bruce for Dilson Herrera (NYM No. 3 prospect before graduating) and Max Wotel (NYM No. 19 prospect)
  • Carlos Beltran for Dillon Tate (TEX No. 4 prospect), Erik Swanson, and Nick Green
  • J.D. Martinez for Dawel Lugo (ARI No. 4 prospect), Sergio Alcantara (ARI No. 15 prospect), and Jose King
  • Leonys Martin for Willi Castro (CLE No. 9 prospect) and Kyle Dowdy
  • Tommy Pham (and $500,000 of international slot bonus) for Justin Williams (TB No. 11 prospect), Genesis Cabrera (TB No. 24 prospect), and Roel Ramirez

To get the obvious out of the way, yes, every organization is different and none of these players are direct comps for Castellanos. Prospect rankings vary too, but they are listed as a general gauge. The J.D. Martinez trade may scare off some Tigers fans, but it honestly falls roughly in line with a lot of other moves, given the market environment at the time. The Tigers may well have done better by hanging onto Martinez and hoping for a better offer, but it’s also true that numerous contending GM’s in 2017 failed utterly in not topping the Diamondbacks meager offer.

Detroit can reasonably expect one of a team’s better prospects, but it likely will be closer to MLB top 100 than MLB top 50. Even that might be optimistic. Dealing with an organization that has more depth than someone like Arizona a couple years ago would be wise, and the Tigers might be better served taking a swing at younger prospects with potential rather than those with more established value. Regardless of who that team is, though, history shows that teams are willing to move a top-10 prospect in their system for a quality bat at the deadline.

Speculating what an actual return for Castellanos may bring is a task for a different post, but the idea here is that the Tigers can and should look to receive a good-but-not-elite prospect who can essentially be what Castellanos has been for the team in recent years, just fitting better with the current timeline. A bat-first player blocked in a better system is probably the most one can hope for. There is always a need for bats in the Detroit system, and this is the perfect opportunity to restock the farm system’s depth.