How Does Nick Castellanos Fit Into Cubs' Future?

Castellanos has meshed well with the Cubs, but his free agency could be tricky.

Bruce Levine
August 29, 2019 - 3:40 pm
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(670 The Score) In the eyes of many across the MLB landscape, the most impactful trade made leading up to the July 31 deadline was the Cubs' acquisition of right fielder Nick Castellanos in exchange for two minor league pitchers.

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Castellanos' arrival revitalized the Cubs' offense, and his bat has at times has felt like the only consistent one a too-often listless lineup. Castellanos is hitting .365 with nine doubles, nine homers, 16 RBIs, 22 runs and an 1.112 OPS in 25 games with Chicago.

Beyond his stat line, Castellanos' energy has been noticeable. He has been a breath of fresh air for the club. 

All that would make it seem like a no-brainer to re-sign Castellanos, who will be a free agent at season's end and turns 28 next March, but that process and decision will likely be more difficult.

The Cubs have the second-highest payroll in MLB. It was around $208 million on Opening Day. The Cubs have since used the money they saved on veteran utilityman Ben Zobrist's leave of absence to sign closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43-million deal in June, then added Castellanos and low-cost players ahead of the trade deadline.

Looking ahead to 2020, the Cubs will shed around $50 million in payroll with Zobrist, left-hander Cole Hamels, reliever Pedro Strop, reliever Steve Cishek and reliever Brandon Kintzler set to become free agents. But they'll also encounter significant arbitration raises for the likes of third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras, while right-hander Kyle Hendricks' annual salary will jump about $4.5 million.

It all means the Cubs will have to be mindful of any long-term deal that they offer Castellanos, but there are factors that point to the partnership continuing.

Beyond his production, working in Castellanos' favor is that he's also a different type of hitter in a Cubs lineup that sometimes is boom or bust. He has an ideal line-drive swing and a penchant for shooting the ball into the power alleys at Wrigley Field, and he's comfortable going the opposite way. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has also noted that Castellanos is adept at handling the high fastballs that opposing pitchers use to take advantage of other Cubs batters.

The Cubs are attractive to Castellanos because he has a burning desire to win after playing for a bad Tigers team that has been rebuilding for several seasons, and he has fit into the clubhouse well.

A concern for the Cubs is that keeping Castellanos for the long term could hurt their defense a bit. A Gold Glove right fielder, Jason Heyward can play center field well but still loses some of his defensive value there. He's under contract through 2023. Kyle Schwarber currently mans left field and is amid a 2019 season in which he has set a career-high with 31 homers.

Cubs fans have really taken to Castellanos' style in his first month with the team, but he's unsure of what will lie ahead in free agency for him this offseason. He too fears it could be a cool market for players, as it has been for some the past couple of winters.

"There’s a lot of uncertainty right now with the relationship between ownership and players," Castellanos told USA Today. "Just the way that we’re being evaluated. It’s something I can’t control. But being in a position where I’m wanted, all I have to worry about is winning and trying to help influence the guys around me."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.