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Chicago Cubs interested in Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos, per report

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The soon-to-be free agent may be on the move before the July 31 trade deadline.

Detroit Tigers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The July 31 trade deadline is getting so close we can virtually taste it, and with every rumor, anticipation just keeps building. The Detroit Tigers are firmly entrenched in the ‘sellers’ category, and they are toting some of the most valuable players for sale this season. The front office is swimming in interest for the two pitchers that headline Detroit’s roster — Matthew Boyd and Shane Greene — but there has been far less chatter on regarding the team’s hitters.

That changed this weekend. The Chicago Cubs are interested in acquiring Castellanos, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. McCosky said that the rumor “has some teeth.”

This makes sense, given Castellanos’ current contract situation.

The possibility of a contract extension, regrettably, seems to no longer be on the table, a likelihood underscored by Castellanos’ recent hiring of agent Scott Boras. A breakout season in 2018 saw Castellanos hit .298/.354/.500, and fans were anticipating a repeat performance in 2019. Regression to career norms are what we have seen instead. Despite that, Castellanos still an above-average hitter who has been cranking out doubles all season, resulting in a .280/.339/.467 line.

As a National League team, the Cubs don’t have the luxury of stashing Castellanos in the designated hitter spot, but they are still a natural destination for the 27-year-old. Their interest in adding an offensively-minded outfielder is driven by the lackluster performance of center fielder Albert Almora Jr. Although Almora Jr. is a very good defender, his bat hasn’t held up this season. As McCosky points out, Chicago’s objective is to move Jason Heyward in center, where he could continue to thrive, and push Almora Jr. into a bench role.

When it comes to Chicago’s prospects, the obvious draw is Nico Hoerner.

The Cubs transformed the shortstop from a reach at the back end of the first round of the draft to one of the game’s premier prospects at his position. Scouts have dropped Ian Kinsler comparisons on him thanks to a contact-forward approach with “sneaky power” and high baseball IQ. Hoerner is already reached Double-A in his first full season of pro ball and is acquitting himself well there.

In other words, he’s off limits.

The second ranked prospect in Chicago’s pipeline is catcher Miguel Amaya. He’s the type of backstop the Tigers love to target; his glove work is quiet and he makes excellent throws from behind the plate. His bat is a little more exciting than most defense-first types, though. FanGraphs’ prospect experts project that down the road he will offer both above-average contact and raw power. He’s still a long way from the majors, but there’s a lot of upside to dream on with Amaya. If Tigers general manager Al Avila is able to pry him away from Chicago, it would probably be in a one-for-one swap.

There are plenty of other minor leaguers that could draw Detroit’s attention.

Brennen Davis is a dynamic center fielder with big power and double-plus speed, but he’s a long-term project who will need to refine his approach at the plate and improve his routes in the field. A more extreme version of that profile is available in Nelson Velazquez, who has major issues with his approach and is labelled as a 40-grade hitter by MLB Pipeline, but he has big power and his strong arm fits in well in right field.

Cory Abbott is another option — his plus cutter and above-average command have propelled him a good season in Double-A. His four-seam fastball, curve, and changeup are also average pitches and he could be a backend starter relatively soon. They could also as for a pitcher like Richard Gallardo who has a ton of raw stuff, but his floor is very low and he hasn’t even gotten out of rookie ball yet.

A third kind of prospect that the Cubs have to offer are formerly well-regarded players who have lost some of their luster. Former LSU standout Alex Lange was a first round pick on the merit of his mid-90s fastball and big curve, but his stiff has backed up somewhat and he now projects as a 5th starter. Duane Underwood Jr. is no longer looks like a potential frontline starter, but he can throw a plus fastball and he backs it up with an average curve and change. Jose Albertos flashes some of the best stuff in the minors, including a devastating changeup, but injuries have kept him away from the field and his control was nonexistent last year.

The Cubs have the pieces to pull off a deal, but it will be coming out of a system that has been dipped into quite a few times over the last few year. Avila doesn’t have a great track record of getting much for his rental pieces, either — the trades for J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton spring to mind. If the pattern continues, the deal that results could look very good for Chicago. On the other hand, it seems to be a better seller’s market this season than in prior years, so we will have to wait and see what happens.