For most of the past 6 weeks, Mariners fans have clamored for starting pitching. Most of the writings on the trade deadline have centered on the starting pitching market. But could spending on a bat actually make more sense?
The simple answer is probably no. Just logistically, the Mariners have 40% of their rotation on the DL right now. While neither is expected to miss significant time, they aren’t the only concern. Marco Gonzalez won’t make it through the season before needing to be shut down. Wade LeBlanc is no guarantee to last all season either.
So, yes, the Mariners need to add pitching at the deadline. However, does this mean that adding a bat is a waste of time? Absolutely not. Entering Sunday’s game against the Rockies, the Mariners rank 19th in baseball in runs scored. They rank 13th in OBP which isn’t bad until you consider that on most nights, the Mariners can have as many as 5 players in their lineup with OBP of lower than .300.
Thankfully, the Mariners will get a major addition with the return of Robinson Cano in mid-August. But they still have a month left, and the surging Oakland A’s are closing the gap. What is a team to do? As you might have guessed by the title, perhaps Jerry Dipoto can increase his margin of error by adding a bat to the lineup, specifically, Nick Castellanos.
The idea comes from an interesting report from MLB Trade Rumor. The Detroit Tigers are selling, and have put Castellanos on the market. Unfortunately, he hasn’t generated much interest.
The report speculates that the market is so thin for Castellanos because of his inability to play defense. We will address that shortly, but first, let’s look at what he can do.
Nick Castellanos is a 26-year-old, right-handed hitter. He is a club controlled asset for the 2018 and 2019 season. Enjoying a breakout season in 2018, Castellanos is hitting .308/.363/.523 with a 140 wRC+. He also has 15 home runs, 54 runs, 56 RBI with a below-average strikeout rate.
More from SoDo Mojo
- 2023 Steamer Projections: Teoscar Hernandez could see a drop in Seattle
- Could the Mariners Acquire AL Batting Champion, Luis Arraez?
- Steamer Projections: Julio Rodriguez to enter rarified air in 2023
- What if the Mariners traded FOR Tyler O’Neill this time?
- Mariners starting pitching is being overlooked by MLB
To put those numbers in perspective, Castellanos would have the 2nd highest average on the team, the same OBP as Nelson Cruz, and the second highest slugging % behind only Nelson Cruz. In summary, the dude is raking in 2018.
But is this just a fluke? He was never this good right? Well, yes and no. Since the start of 2016, Castellanos is slashing .285/.335/.501 with a 162 game average of 27 home runs, a 123 wRC+ and 97 RBI. So is he having a career year in 2018? Yes. Does that mean he can’t continue? No.
Castellanos is entering his athletic prime. His line drive rate is up, his groundball rate is down. He is pulling the ball more than ever, yet is still posting solid numbers up the middle and the other way. He doesn’t walk a ton, but also puts the ball in play with authority, a lot. There is no debate, Nicholas Castellanos is a very good hitter, who might be about to enter the elite level.
How, by any logical train of thought can a 26-year-old, borderline elite bat with club control beyond 2018 be sitting on the market without anybody expressing serious interest? Well, he’s not a good defender. At least, he hasn’t been anywhere the Tigers have tried to play him.
Castellanos came up as third baseman, and as you might have guessed, could not handle the hot corner that well. So late in the 2017 season, the Tigers moved Castellanos to the outfield, where he has been for the entire 2018 season and things… aren’t going great.
In 786.2 innings in RF, Castellanos has posted a -9.2 UZR/150 and a 92% RZR. RZR measures the percentage of balls in the average RF zone that this player will catch. For the sake of comparison, Mitch Haniger is also at 92%. The difference is that Haniger makes a significant amount of OOZ (out of zone) catches that most RF can’t make.
So you are sacrificing some glove to get Castellanos bat in the lineup. But how much really? Haniger isn’t going anywhere, so Castellanos could shift to LF. But Ben Gamel is hitting and a better defender than Castellanos, right?
Actually, no. Castellanos outfield UZR/150 in 2018 is -9.2. Ben Gamel’s UZR/150 in LF? -9.2. Denard Span’s UZR/150 is -8.4 in LF. But both of those players are hitting, and the eye test tells you that they are better defenders in LF than Castellanos. But what if he isn’t in the OF? What if he is your first baseman.
Castellanos has never played first base. But how much does that matter really? Ryon Healy is not a good defensive first baseman. Dan Vogelbach is even worse. Could Castellanos really be worse than either of them? Probably not. In fact, Castellanos third base metrics are roughly equivalent to Healy’s. Why can’t Castellanos play first?
Look, is Nick Castellanos a perfect fit? No. Does he make the offense better? Yes. When he returns, Robinson Cano will likely suck up most of the 1B reps down the stretch. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find AB for Castellanos as well.
Tough lefty on the mound? Castellanos to LF, sit Gamel and Span. Nelson Cruz need a day? Castellanos to DH. Want the extra pop in the lineup? Gordon to CF, Cano to 2B, Castellanos at 1B. Finding a way to get Castellanos and Cano in the lineup won’t be an issue. His defense might.
At the end of the day, there is a 26-year-old, club controlled, great bat on the market and almost nobody is interested. How many times have you been able to say that? Castellanos isn’t a perfect player or the perfect fit. But he is a great bat entering his prime and is cheap. The value play alone is worth trying to make it work defensively with Castellanos.
The positives significantly outweigh the negatives. A plus bat is out there on the market and can be had on the cheap. Jerry Dipoto, an opportunity is knocking. You just need to open the door.