If Nicholas Castellanos exercises the opt-out in his deal next winter, could a reunion between the Chicago Cubs and the outfielder be a possibility?
In the weeks leading up to last July’s trade deadline, rumors surfaced connecting the Chicago Cubs to then-Detroit Tigers slugger Nicholas Castellanos. Then, at the last moment, ownership opened its purse strings, allowing Theo Epstein to add a critical piece to the roster ahead of the stretch run.
He immediately caught fire, putting together an unforgettable run on the North Side and immediately becoming a fan favorite. He loved the city, Wrigley Field, the fans, escaping his unsavory Tigers experience and playing for a legitimate contender.
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"“When I got traded to the Cubs,’’ Castellanos said last August, “it was like I was called up to the big leagues. I’m waking up excited to compete every day playing for something.”"
Post-trade, he put up eye-opening numbers, slashing .321/.356/.646 while narrowly missing out on becoming the first player since 1936 to amass 60 doubles in a single season. Then, after it quickly became clear the Cubs wouldn’t be bringing him back this offseason, he turned that monstrous second half into a four-year, $64 million deal with the rival Cincinnati Reds.
It hurt. There’s no disputing that. But with an outfield mix that features four more years of Jason Heyward in one corner spot and Kyle Schwarber in the other, it’s not hard to figure out why Chicago went in another direction (plus, you know, the fact Epstein was working on nickels and dimes this winter).
Schwarber turned in a breakout second half of his own, actually outperforming Castellanos in many regards. He’s been long awaited as a potential offensive force and, for the first time, he put it all together in 2019. Given the defensive limitations of both Schwarber and Castellanos, simply put, there wasn’t a logical spot for him to play on a daily basis long-term.
But here we are, without baseball, wondering what the next few years will look like for the sport. Players who inked new deals last winter may gain a year of service time without ever setting foot on the field this year. No one really knows. There are endless potential implications for fans, players and organizations alike – including the Cubs and Castellanos.
Heyward isn’t going anywhere. But the 2021 variation of this squad could look much different – and by 2022, it’s hard to know which, if any, members of the World Series champion core will still be in Chicago.
Castellanos, still just 28 years of age, could form a key component of a new nucleus in years to come. His aforementioned four-year deal with Cincinnati contains opt-outs after both the 2020 and 2021 campaigns, which leaves the door cracked just a smidge for a potential reunion.
It’s not out of the question that, knowing Schwarber could hit free agency after next season, Epstein uses some of the money coming off the books this winter to bring back a guy who so wholly encapsulated playing the game the right way, each and every time he took the field.
In the short-term, Heyward could slide over to center field, flanked by Schwarber and Castellanos. If the former moved on in free agency, Heyward could jump back over to right, his primary – and preferred – position, with Castellanos in left and find an answer in center field if Ian Happ and Albert Almora continue to underperform.
I’m not saying it’s likely; I’m saying it’s possible. Maybe it’s the fan in me – but seeing Big Stick Nick back at the Friendly Confines next year would be one heckuva way to welcome back baseball as we know it.