When Nick Castellanos signed with the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2020 season, he did so in a deal that gave him very much flexibility. He was entering free agency for the first time fresh off an age-27 season in which he was traded by the rebuilding Detroit Tigers to the Chicago Cubs, only to explode offensively in leading them down the stretch.
In stepped the Cincinnati Reds, who were desperate for offense for a 2020 season that they hoped would be their next step back into contention, and the contract they put on the table for Castellanos reflected just that. In it were opt-out clauses for the young slugger after each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons - the kind of outs that could presumably allow a still-young Castellanos to return to a lucrative free-agent market should he post more gargantuan numbers early in the deal - but with an overall guarantee of some $64 million should his production, or the overall free agent market, not continue their rocket-ride upwards.
A little of both of those last two scenarios played out in 2020. While Castellanos got off to a red-hot start, a mid-year slump sunk his overall numbers to just a 102 OPS+ in this, a pandemic-induced short season that has punched overall MLB finances right in the gut. As a result, we’ve already seen teams decline options with a fury to begin transaction season, a pretty clear sign the free agent prospects this winter are going to be bleak.
Those factors made Nick’s decision not to opt-out at this time pretty straightforward, really, something that happened officially at midnight. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed that information earlier this morning.
Nick Castellanos did not inform the #reds he is opting out of his contract. He will be back in 2021.— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) October 31, 2020
While defensive metrics are largely scatterbrained, they do tend to tell a pretty decent story when most of them align. They’re all pretty well on-board that Castellanos’ defense in RF is below average, and that paired with offensive production below what was expected - he’d posted a combined 121 OPS+ over his previous four seasons prior to 2020 - left him valued at -0.2 bWAR and 0.5 fWAR last season. So, for the $16 million he’ll pick up for 2021, the Reds will surely be banking on continued defensive evolution along with a return to the kind of bashing at the plate he’s done at his best.
Fortunately, there’s a lot there to suggest he’s still plenty capable. As Prospects365 writer Justin Choi noted earlier this fall, Castellanos ran into some pretty poor luck last season, both with his .257 overall BABIP and some lasers that did not fall for hits as expected.
Nick Castellanos had 9 of his barrels (!) turn into outs, leading all hitters this year.— Justin Choi (@justinochoi) October 22, 2020
If they were all doubles instead of outs, he would have hit .266/.335/.569. In reality, he ended with a disappointing .225/.298/.486 line.
What will be interesting to watch now, however, is whether or not the Designated Hitter returns to NL play in 2021, as it’s currently not a rule that’s on the books for next year. It was instituted temporarily for 2020 due to the revised nature of the short schedule, and there’s certainly the expectation that it will be permanent once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached - one that expires after the 2021 season. If it isn’t bargained into place for 2021, however, the Reds have quite the outfield logjam on their hands, what with Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel, and Aristides Aquino all in the mix with no DH to alleviate the jam.
While having Castellanos back certainly should be a good thing for the offense, it will absolutely push the Reds into making tough decisions elsewhere. That OF logjam is one thing they’ll have to solve, but their likely pressured budget just had to allocate a good amount of cash in this transaction, cash that might have otherwise been put towards a Trevor Bauer reunion. Barring trades that shed large sums of cash or a financial outlay from ownership that would shock socks off pundits everywhere, it’s hard to envision the Reds making that reunion happen at this point.
The hot stove is officially being fired up, folks.