The Winter Meetings are coming to a close and despite missing out on their top third base targets, the Texas Rangers continue to monitor Nick Castellanos.
The Texas Rangers entered the offseason determined to add an impact free agent, preferably at third base. Anthony Rendon was their prime choice with Josh Donaldson a slightly more affordable alternative. Despite confidence that Texas would walk away with one of these two players, it seems the Rangers will miss out on both. Rendon reportedly has agreed a seven-year deal with the Angels while Levi Weaver of The Athletic reports that the club has pulled out of the running for Josh Donaldson. So with your top two options gone, where can Texas turn? Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the Rangers are “showing continued interest” in Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos remain one of the best hitters available in free agency after putting together a solid 2019 season with the Tigers and Cubs. Last season Castellanos hit .289 with an .863 OPS and 2.8 fWAR. Those numbers in and of themselves are impressive but he was excellent at the plate after being traded to the Cubs at the deadline. From August 1st to the end of the season, Castellanos had 225 plate appearances and hit .321 with a 1.002 OPS.
That impressive 2019 season followed an even more impressive 2018 campaign where Castellanos played 157 games hitting .298 with a 3.0 fWAR. Over the past couple of seasons Castellanos has emerged as one of the better right-handed hitters in the game and at only 27-years old, he still has room for growth. Texas is in dire need of right-handed hitting and while he isn’t a 30+ home run guy, he’s hit 23 or more in each of his last three seasons.
The knock on Castellanos by a wide margin is his defense. Most recently he’s featured as an outfielder after spending the early part of his career at third base. For Detroit he more often than not played in right field over the past couple of seasons logging over 2500 innings there since 2017. That includes a lot of his stint in Chicago as well. That’s probably the position he’s been best at in his career which isn’t saying much. In his career in right field, Castellanos has an -11.3 UZR/150 meaning he’s roughly 11 runs worse than an average fielder across 150 games.
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The Cubs opted to try Castellanos in left field as well as right field and he was far worse in left. In just 35.2 innings in left last season, Castellanos had a -22.9 UZR/150 rating. The other downside to him playing a corner outfield spot in Arlington is that Texas already has established corner outfielders. The plan post-Nomar Mazara trade was for Willie Calhoun to be the everyday left fielder and Joey Gallo to be the long-term right fielder. Now Gallo has the ability to play in all outfield spots and the corner infield positions but right field seems like his best position and it’s time to stop the position roulette for Texas’ best player.
With the Rangers needing a third baseman for the 2020 season, Texas could possibly look to move Castellanos back to the hot corner but he hasn’t player there in a game since 2017. He logged over 4400 innings at third while he was with the Tigers and posted a -7.4 UZR/150 rating which actually suggests it may be his best position. However, I’m not sure Texas wants to commit to a below average defender at third long-term and there’s no guarantee he could even post similar numbers to what his career suggests after two years away from the position.
One idea raised by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News was that Texas could look to Castellanos as a possible upgrade at first base. While third base was the priority, missing out on Rendon and Donaldson means the Rangers should be looking for any upgrades that can be made, not just third base. He’s never played first base in his career but it’s always seems to be an option that creeps up for good hitters with defensive struggles. He’s got the height for it listed at 6’4″ so the main question would be does he have the glove for it. Also Texas would have to figure out what to do with Ronald Guzman if that were the long-term plan for Castellanos as he’s limited to first base.
There’s still a lot of time left this offseason and we have to remember that deals will still happen despite the end of the Winter Meetings. Texas will still be looking to add a significant upgrade or two and Castellanos could be an alternative that isn’t too high priced and has good upside. FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agents list had Castellanos as the 11th best player available this offseason. They predicted roughly $14 million per year over a four-year contract for Castellanos. I could see that number increasing a bit considering the market seems elevated but if Texas could get Castellanos to close to average defense, his bat would be a great long-term addition.