Chicago Cubs: Nick Castellanos opts out and could be a big-time target

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

I’ve been a Chicago Cubs fan for three decades now – and I can scarcely remember another guy who was with the team for just a cup of coffee and made as big an impact as Nick Castellanos.

Acquired at the deadline back in 2019 to help address Chicago’s glaring deficiencies against left-handed pitching, the slugging outfielder went on an absolute tear to close out the year before signing with the Cincinnati Reds the following offseason. To this day, there are still fans who are sore over the Cubs not making a serious run at the outfielder. But now, they’ll have a chance to rectify the situation this winter.

Castellanos formally opted out of the final two years of his deal with the Reds on Thursday, walking away from $34 million in the process. He’ll instead look to secure a longer-term, higher-dollar contract in free agency on the heels of what was undoubtedly the best season of his career.

Earning the first All-Star selection of his career, Castellanos slashed .309/.362/.576, smacking a career-high 34 home runs and driving in 100 in 138 games. He was almost completely split-neutral, posting a .936 OPS against righties and .945 against southpaws and absolutely thrived at home, putting up a ridiculous .359/.407/.702 slash line at Great American Ballpark.

Defensively, you know what you’re going to get from Castellanos. He’s definitely a bat-first guy, but with the possibility of the designated hitter coming to the National League in the new CBA, that might be less of a concern. You can almost guarantee that interested teams, including the Cubs, will wait and see how the dust settles on that front before putting an offer in front of the veteran outfielder.

Chicago Cubs: Nick Castellanos could be a key offensive presence

It’s not hard to figure out how to get him in the lineup even without the DH.  After the midseason fire sale, the outfield was left severely depleted – led by an Ian Happ who maintained an average in the .180 range for half the year before turning it on down the stretch and a Jason Heyward who was subpar in almost every regard this year.

After trading Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the pop in this lineup was largely generated by just three guys: Patrick Wisdom, Frank Schwindel and Willson Contreras. Wisdom has work to do this winter to cut down the strikeouts, Schwindel needs to prove he can do what he did last summer for more than two months and Contreras – well, we don’t even know if he’ll be with the team come Opening Day.

Castellanos would immediately be one of the biggest names on the roster and come back to a place he made a name for himself once already. Known for his fiery, emotional  passion on the field, this is a guy who can be a very vocal leader for third-year manager David Ross as the team looks toward the future.

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Chicago will face plenty of competition for Castellanos’ services this winter. But they shouldn’t be afraid of that – because bringing him back to Wrigley Field checks a lot of boxes for this team as they embark on what will undoubtedly be a transformative offseason.