Will the Red Sox make a splash before Opening Day? As part of our “free agency fits” series, we’re examining whether several top players remaining on the open market make sense (or don’t make sense) as Boston builds its roster for the 2022 Major League Baseball season.
” … as there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos. It will be a home run. And so that’ll make it a 4?0 ballgame.”
Many casual fans’ introduction to Nick Castellanos occurred under less-than-ideal circumstances, as the outfielder became part of an internet punchline in August 2020 after homering in the middle of broadcaster Thom Brennaman’s on-air apology for using a homophobic slur.
Brennaman, in a surreal moment, stopped his dead-serious message to call Castellanos’ home run, making for a viral clip that immediately started making the rounds on social media.
But other, more informed fans probably know Castellanos from his productive seven-year tenure with the Detroit Tigers, his awesome 51-game stint with the Chicago Cubs in 2019 and/or his two-season run with the Cincinnati Reds that included his first career All-Star selection in 2021.
In fact, Castellanos, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract with Cincinnati before the 2020 season, opted out of his deal this offseason in the hopes of capitalizing on his impressive 2021 and landing a lucrative payday in MLB free agency.
So, should the Red Sox target Castellanos on the open market? Let’s examine.
Age: 29 (March 4, 1992)
Weight: 203 pounds
138 games (585 plate appearances)
34 HR, 100 RBI, 3 SB
3.2 bWAR, 4.2 fWAR
1,086 games (4,473 plate appearances)
168 HR, 594 RBI, 14 SB
12.3 bWAR, 14.9 fWAR
Why Castellanos makes sense for Red Sox:
Think of Castellanos as a right-handed version of Kyle Schwarber. It’s not totally an apples-to-apples comparison, as Schwarber typically posts a better walk rate while Castellanos usually can be counted on for a higher batting average. But their overall production has been comparable in recent years, and each player’s potential fit with the Red Sox largely is the same.
Castellanos, like Schwarber, is an offense-first outfielder with serious defensive limitations, meaning he’d likely land in left field with the Red Sox based on Boston’s current roster construction. Perhaps the Red Sox even would try Castellanos at first base, like they did with Schwarber in 2021, and he could seamlessly transition to Boston’s designated hitter role in 2023 if J.D. Martinez leaves in free agency next offseason. Castellanos has experience at third base, although he hasn’t appeared at the hot corner since 2017.
The nine-year veteran is coming off a season in which he posted career-bests in home runs (34), batting average (.309), OPS (.939), OPS+ (136) and wRC+ (140). His hard-hit percentage ranked in the 79th percentile, his max exit velocity ranked in the 83rd percentile and his average exit velocity ranked in the 61st percentile, per Baseball Savant. All told, he’s an above-average hitter, capable of raking for power and average, who’s in his prime and entering the market with maximum value.
Castellanos immediately would become a middle-of-the-order-type presence within Boston’s lineup, and being right-handed seemingly works in his favor in wake of the Red Sox trading Hunter Renfroe (a righty) for Jackie Bradley Jr. (a lefty) earlier this offseason.
Why Castellanos doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
The Red Sox could use another outfielder. But they’re probably best served targeting a better defender who’d offer manager Alex Cora more positional flexibility. Castellanos is best suited for a DH role, something Boston can’t really provide until 2023 without a corresponding move involving Martinez.
Plus, the price could be prohibitive. Sure, the Red Sox have the financial muscle to make a significant investment in free agency this offseason. But MLB Trade Rumors projected a five-year, $115 million contract for Castellanos at the beginning of the offseason. And MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported in late November, citing a source, that Castellanos was seeking a seven- or eight-year deal.
That’s a sizable commitment for someone who doesn’t fill a glaring need, especially when you consider signing him also would require the Red Sox to relinquish draft-pick compensation based on Castellanos rejecting Cincinnati’s qualifying offer following his opt-out. Castellanos left two years and $34 million on the table with the Reds.
Castellanos could fill a role similar to the one Schwarber took on with Boston last season after the MLB trade deadline. But Schwarber is younger and possibly cheaper. Not to mention, he’s less of a free swinger and already meshed perfectly in the Red Sox’s clubhouse.
Verdict: An imperfect fit.
Prediction: Castellanos signs with the San Diego Padres.