Bernstein: Will Cubs Keep Nick Castellanos?

A revelation for his new team, Castellanos seems to really love Chicago.

Dan Bernstein
September 10, 2019 - 1:53 pm

(670 The Score) Sometimes a trade-deadline pickup becomes something much more important than mere roster fortification, and the Cubs' trade for outfielder Nicholas Castellanos is now appearing to be just that. The 27-year-old Castellanos has made himself all but indispensable as the team lurches toward the end of the season still hoping to reach the playoffs, and it seems he's enjoying his time so far in Chicago both on the field and off.

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That matters because he's a free agent-to-be, and this streak of slugging is doing nothing to make him less valuable on the open market when it's time for the phone to start ringing. Castellanos' production has buoyed an inconsistent offense that feels the drag from injuries to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez and has been maddeningly unable to handle the bat and manage the strike zone in high-leverage situations.

Castellanos can hit elevated fastballs, and his 36 games as a Cub have been a revelation. He's slashing .347/.373/.707 since being traded, good for a 172 wRC+ that includes 14 home runs, making him worth 1.6 wins by himself in a little over a month.

Yes, anybody can have a hot five weeks of baseball, and it would be silly to expect a continuation of that level of production when pricing him for a multi-year contract, but there were signs in his numbers in Detroit that suggested this could happen. The vast Comerica Park was certainly turning home runs into his MLB-leading doubles total, and his overall average on barreled-up balls was lower than it should've been. We've seen that correction at Wrigley Field and in the National League since he arrived. His defense and baserunning still rate as below average, but neither has been close to deal-breakingly bad.

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Manager Joe Maddon had nothing but continued praise for Castellanos when he appeared on the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score on Tuesday. 

"I have no idea the situation we'd be in without him over this last month or so," Maddon said. "He's ready to play every day. He plays, like he said, like it's Opening Day. He plays every game that way. If he doesn't come through, he's really upset with himself. He just has this joy for the game."

His no-nonsense personality has been a good fit for a Cubs clubhouse that has become comfortable after success, one that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein thought needed a kick in the pants. If his own exhortation for more urgency didn't quite do the trick, adding some hungrier players like Castellanos just might, and it means such an absence could now be felt if he chooses to go elsewhere.

But Maddon painted a picture of a player embracing more than just the latest job opportunity, really getting comfortable in new surroundings. 

"That's a big part of why he's been so successful here," Maddon said. "He's very comfortable in his own skin -- 'This is me, this is who I am. This is how I'll react. I'm a good baseball player, and I'm here to help. I love being in Chicago and being a Cub.'"

Maddon shared that Castellanos and his girlfriend decided to have a family picnic in the Wrigley outfield on a recent off day, including a barbecue grill and a swimming pool for his 6-year-old son. It's almost too easy for fans to want to read into such a thing as a sign he wants to stay.

Perhaps Castellanos does. But any secret is out as to what he's worth as an offensive force. Even as we anticipate some major changes over the coming winter, it has become increasingly tough to imagine the Cubs choosing to part ways with a player who hasn't taken long to start looking like a material piece of whatever comes next.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.