If you are just getting back from a vacation where you had no access at all to the internet or Cincinnati Reds news then you missed out on Monday’s news that the Reds signed free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos to a 4-year deal. The deal is for $64,000,000 over four years, but it also includes opt-outs following both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The outfielder also noted that he’s back to going by Nick instead of Nicholas, so adjust your brain to that one.
As things go here at Redleg Nation, we’ve all got our opinions on the roster moves that the Cincinnati Reds make. And today we’re here to share them, along with what some of the national media members have to say about the deal, too. We’re going to start out with what the Redleg Nation staff has to say, though.
Signing Nick Castellanos makes the Reds better, even if it’s just for a year. If Castellanos has a huge season, I do think there’s a good chance he opts out of his contract and goes after more money in free agency. But I’d be OK with that because if he has a huge season, the Reds will be winning more often than not. His 1.303 OPS in four games at GABP last August is a small sample size, but it’s hard not to get excited about what that could potentially translate to over a full season. His defense also isn’t as much of a concern for me as people are trying to make it. For comparison, last season Jesse Winker was actually worse than Castellanos in outs above average, the defensive stat Statcast recently introduced. It’s pretty much the same (Winker was at -8, while Castellanos was at -7). but it shows Castellanos isn’t any worse than other players the Reds may also play in the outfield in 2020.
I absolutely love this deal for the Reds. Castellanos is a legitimate bat. His lowest OPS+ is 112 over the last three years, so he profiles as someone who fits the category of “Get the Hitting”. He also is a mountain of a man in the clubhouse. Every single day is Opening Day to him and his will to win rivals Michael Lorenzen. If I could have a 26-man roster made up of 13 Castellanos’s and 13 Lorenzen’s, then tell me who beats that team? Ok, well, you could argue there are better players to clone, but I’m really excited.
His production fits well in pretty much any spot in the lineup. Think Brandon Phillips-style hitting. He can get on base when you need him to and he can drive in runs when you need him to. Probably will start the season as the No. 5 hitter, but should Joey Votto (god forbid) struggle out of the gate, then you have a bonafide replacement in that No. 2 spot. Pretty much any projection system has him at .800 to .900 OPS for the year. There’s a reason he was a top-10 free agent this year, and the fact that the Reds signed a top-10 guy is amazing.
The Reds have made a lot of nice additions this off-season, but the signing of Nick Castellanos transforms this team from good to potentially great. The biggest thing for me about this signing (and really all the off-season moves) is that it has instilled a new found sense of confidence I have in the Reds’ front office. I’ve always been a big believer in President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, but the job he and General Manager Nick Krall have done this off-season has been remarkable. They’ve made the current team marginally better without sacrificing player assets or long term financial stability. Gone are the days of going “all in”. The front office has positioned the organization nicely to be players for years to come.
Nick Castellanos first caught my eye during the Cubs last visit to GABP in 2019. Castellanos looked fully engaged to the task at hand on a Chicago team which at times seemed less so as a unit in the four game series split. I recall thinking the Reds could use a guy or two like him moving forward to produce offense while providing some of the heart which seemed to leave the team with Yasiel Puig.
And now Castellanos is here with the Reds. I’m not going to worry about his defense unless he shows we need to. I’m also not going to worry that he has an opt out after each of the first two seasons of his contract with the Reds. Let’s cross that bridge if and when it comes, knowing Castellanos is already set to make enough that if he elects to opt out, it will mean he has done an outstanding job for the Reds. Even if just for one season, he almost certainly will have done his part to make Reds baseball fun to watch again.
While the consensus is that the signing of Nick Castellanos is a harbinger of a trade, I wouldn’t be surprised if the signing was born of the inability to improve the team via trade. The Reds need to find offense however and wherever they can. As if Reds fans needed a reminder of how fickle a season can turn, the Baseball Gods threw one high and tight with the news that Eugenio Suarez has undergone minor shoulder surgery and will get a late start to spring training. That could mean a return to second base for Senzel, sending Moustakas back to his natural position at third to begin the season. The point is, the guy on the bench that goes by the name Depth, should not be overlooked. There’s no need to start trading outfielders.
What Castellanos brings is the ability to barrel the ball. Over the last 3 seasons, he has a .287 batting average, a .337 OBP, slugging .505, with an OPS+ of 121 and 311 Total Bases per year. Over that 3 year span, he (along with Charlie Blackmon) led the majors in extra-base hits. Again, over the last three years his Total Bases ranked him tied for 4th with Mookie Betts among outfielders, his runs created ranked 9th, and his OPS+ ranked 22nd among outfielders. So, this is more than just a couple of months in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley. He’s also averaged 155 games played a season during that period. He plays every day; something we’ve not been able to say about Winker and Senzel so far.
In 2019 he had 53 Barrels, which tied him for 16th. Dude hits the ball on a rope. His Barrel Per Plate Appearance was 8.0%, which tied him with Shohei Ohtani and better than Juan Soto, for reference. His xWOBA ranked 36th, between Luke Voit and Yasmani Grandal. His chase rate (O-Swing) last year was the highest of his career, so he needs some Joey Votto to rub off on him to be sure.
His WAR has suffered because of his poor defense and below-average base-running, thus the diminished overall outlook. Castellanos is not a complete player, but he’s a pretty good hitter–and he’s 28.
What is the media saying?
It’s one thing to see what we here at Redleg Nation thought about the move. But it’s another thing to see what some of the national writers who are a bit further away from the team and the move thought about it.
Keith Law – The Athletic
Law, new to The Athletic after spending years writing for ESPN, was less than a fan of the move for the Reds. His article was littered with comments questioning many of the things he said, and I’ll let you be the judge of that. But here’s his takeaway:
If you could DH him — and that might be an option in the National League before too long — you would have a 3+ WAR player, easily. The Reds, however, didn’t need another corner outfielder; Castellanos is marginally better than their in-house options, but they had just signed Shogo Akiyama as a free agent, and already had Aristides Aquino floating around off a 1-WAR, 19-homer rookie season that probably wasn’t going to be repeated.
Craig Edwards – Fangraphs
Edwards took a deep dive into the Nick Castellanos signing at Fangaphs this week. He looks at the projections for the entirety of his contract, talks about why maybe you should, and maybe you shouldn’t expect his defense to be better than the projections suggest, and just how the deal could work out. Be sure to read the entire piece – there’s some interesting stuff in there. But here’s what he wrapped things up with:
The Reds are right in the middle of a four-team fight for the NL Central, but one more big move would make them favorites instead of solid contenders. The Reds just got a little bit better, and they certainly improved their floor with all the depth they have in the outfield, but it’s hard not to think they might have another, more significant trick up their sleeves.
David Schoenfield – ESPN
Schoenfield talked more about the Reds and the National League Central in his piece earlier this week where he suggests that Cincinnati might be the team to beat in the division. Here’s what he had to say about the Castellanos pick up:
The NL Central is wide open. The projections do point to the issue here: Exactly how good is this offense? The Reds finished 12th in the NL in runs last year. Heck, the Pirates were 11th and scored 57 more runs. Moustakas is more of a big name than a big star, as he hits home runs but has just a .319 OBP over the past three seasons. Castellanos bashed doubles all over the field in 2019 — 58 of them — but he’s also not a high OBP guy with a .337 mark last year and .337 over the past three years. To be fair, those two are clear offensive upgrades over what the Reds had last year at second base and in the outfield corners (for most of the season), so the lineup looks better.