Chicago Cubs: Why Nicholas Castellanos won’t return in 2020

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Nicholas Castellanos provided the Chicago Cubs with a major offensive spark in 2019. However, his return in 2020 seems very unlikely for a number of reasons

For a while there, it looked like Nicholas Castellanos was just what the Chicago Cubs offense needed in the 2019 second half to push them into October.

After they acquired him in a trade deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers, Castellanos provided the Cubs with a shot in the arm offensively. In 51 games with the club, he delivered a stellar .321/.356/.646 slash line, good for a ridiculous 1.002 OPS.

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Free from the wraths of pitcher-friendly Comerica Park, Castellanos’ power numbers instantly went up on the North Side, too. He hit 16 home runs with the Cubs, up from the 11 he hit in 100 games with Detroit.

Castellanos also provided the Cubs with a gap-to-gap approach, putting the ball where opposing defenses weren’t, a nice change of pace for a Cubs lineup that has a knack for hitting into the shift.

Although they ultimately missed the postseason, Castellanos left a positive mark on the Cubs. With that being said, Castellanos, who is now a free agent, seems like someone they must re-sign this winter, right? Not exactly.

While Castellanos’ bat was a welcomed addition to the Cubs lineup, his fit defensively isn’t nearly as great. Admittedly, his defense – which was maligned upon his arrival to Chicago –wasn’t as bad as advertised. Castellanos – who became a full-time outfielder in 2018 – posted 4 Defensive Runs Saved with the Cubs, a significant improvement from the -19 figure he held with the Tigers in 2018.

Moving Heyward over

However, Castellanos manning right field meant moving five-time Gold Glove Award winner Jason Heyward to center field on a full-time basis. Heyward’s career DRS in center field (6) isn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near his career 141 DRS in right.

Heyward has played far more innings in right (10,174 2/3) than center (1,251) in his career, of course, so that skews the DRS figure quite a bit. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a much better right fielder (7 DRS in 2019) than center fielder (-4 DRS), at this stage of his career though.

Add in Kyle Schwarber (career -11 DRS, -1 in 2019) in left field, and the Cubs have a subpar defensive outfield. Could they get by with a combination of Schwarber-Heyward-Castellanos? Sure.

As Joe Maddon did in 2019, new manager David Ross could always pull Schwarber when leading late in a game, moving Heyward to right (and therefore Castellanos to left), inserting a more capable defensive center fielder.

Schwarber trade unlikely

But doing this would mean taking out one of the Cubs’ better hitters in Schwarber, who hit a career-high 38 home runs in 2019 and posted a .997 OPS in the second half.

Could the Cubs trade Schwarber, move Castellanos to left and acquire a good offensive and defensive center fielder? Yes, but Schwarber is only projected to make $8 million in 2020 via arbitration, while Castellanos will command a multi-year deal on the open market.

This math says keep Schwarber and let Castellanos walk in free agency, though it wouldn’t come without consequences. The Cubs’ lineup is obviously much better with Castellanos in the fold, so losing him would hurt, depending on who they’d put in his place.

If Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ step up offensively in 2020 (assuming they’re with the Cubs), then losing Castellanos would hurt less, in this scenario. But Almora is a non-tender/trade candidate this offseason, while Happ has been up-and-down offensively in his young career.

Happ provides hope

Happ finished the year on a positive note, slashing .311/.348/.672 with six home runs in September. So, should he become the Cubs’ full-time center fielder in 2020, losing Castellanos wouldn’t hurt nearly as bad.

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But the thing is, Castellanos departing would still be a loss for the Cubs. Unfortunately for them, letting him walk might be what they have to do.