With minutes to go until the trade deadline in 2019, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer got their guy in Nick Castellanos, a slugging outfielder with a penchant for torching left-handed pitching, which had been a major shortcoming of the Cubs to that point.
He did not disappoint, slashing .321/.356/.646 down the stretch for Chicago – although his individual exploits weren’t enough to propel the team to the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. In free agency that offseason, the team never made a serious run at Castellanos and he wound up inking a four-year, $64 million deal with the rival Cincinnati Reds.
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His first season with the Reds didn’t go well. He put up roughly league average numbers (98 OPS+) but has put Cincinnati on his back early in 2021, bringing his signature energy and swagger to the diamond and lighting a fire under his teammates.
Castellanos smacked his fifth home run of the season on Friday night, in a 10-3 rout of the in-state rival Indians. His two-hit effort raised his line for the year to .321/.345/.698 -eerily close to what he did during his time with the Cubs.
Cubs flailing as Nick Castellanos mashes
Meanwhile, Chicago’s offense is in tatters. As a team, the Cubs enter play with a league-worst .166 average. The team has just one player – Willson Contreras – batting north of .250 on the year and just three players total above the Mendoza Line.
With each passing day, the team is inching closer and closer to a full-blown fire sale. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are all set to hit free agency at season’s end. The former has shut down any further talks after the team low-balled him this spring and Baez has hardly looked worthy of a long-term investment over the last couple seasons.
This winter, the team non-tendered former first-rounder and fan favorite Kyle Schwarber in lieu of longtime Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, looking to change things up offensively. The Cubs decided to let Pederson play every day – even against lefties, something he’d never done before. After a scorching spring, the early regular season returns haven’t been great, to say the least, with the slugger batting a paltry .119/.208/.190 two weeks in.
All this to say – bringing back Castellanos ahead of last year could have made a difference – a big one, at that. The swagger and confidence he brings to a lineup is contagious and right now, Chicago doesn’t have a single player who brings that same type of infectious energy. Or, for that matter, a single player producing at the plate, either.