Like the ex who knows they made a mistake, the Detroit Tigers came back.
It was just a phone call, a question for Nick Castellanos’ camp as his winter of free agency wore on. Would he entertain a return to Detroit, where he grew up as a player and once thought he would remain for the rest of his career?
After they didn’t want him, and said nobody else wanted him either? After those final two months with the Cubs last season, when he sparked a postseason contender with performance and personality, re-discovering what it felt like to win?
Here’s a better question: Would you?
Castellanos, the Tigers’ best homegrown hitter since Curtis Granderson in the mid-2000s, found his new home Tuesday morning, signing a four-year, $64 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds.
“Just some places you feel good, others not so good,” he said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “I guess so far, I feel good every time I swing the bat at this ballpark. So I’m excited to be able to play 81 games for a season here.”
The Tigers were not serious players at any point, but with a hole in right field and in need of an anchor to their batting order, it was worth asking, even if they already knew the answer.
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It has been written in this space before, but with Castellanos officially relocating four hours down Interstate 75, it’s worth mentioning again, with a new perspective: If the Tigers really are building back up, as general manager Al Avila said ad nauseam last month, then why didn’t they pursue the most logical “big money” free agent available?
Castellanos, 27, is entering his prime years and was the youngest free agent on the market. For the price — his contract is $16 million per season with opt-outs after each of the first two seasons — the Reds added an impact hitter to the middle of the batting order and hopes of a National League Central division title.
“Nick was one of the most attractive options on the market,” Dick Williams, the Reds’ president of baseball operations, said. “He has been a consistently elite producer offensively and that complements our existing team well.”
For as much attention is paid to the dearth of ready impact hitting prospects in the system, more focus needs to be placed on how the Tigers are going to find a bat in the short term.
That doesn’t appear to be in next year’s free-agent class. Mookie Betts and All-Star George Springer both are likely to be far out of the Tigers’ price range, and there are some early 30-somethings who don’t quite fit for a number of reasons. The 2022 free-agent class is shaped similarly.
Nobody knows how generous president and CEO Christopher Ilitch will be with his money when the time comes, but it won’t be close to what his father spent on the team. Because of that, the Tigers — who figure to lose their fair share of games again this season, play in the cold and on a field as big as a national park — will be challenged in their attempts to court free agents.
Which puts their decision to punt on Castellanos under the microscope, illuminating the foresight (or lack thereof) in decision-making.
After moving to right field full time in 2018, he took a leadership role in the Tigers’ clubhouse, ran with it and hoped for a contract extension.
Those inside the front office who recognized his hitting ability vouched for it. Others who analyzed his down defensive numbers ultimately won out. There was no extension, and by the time he got to spring training in 2019, his then-agent had requested a trade. His departure was not a matter of if, but when.
It came minutes before the trade deadline on July 31, sending him to the Cubs for a pair of righty pitching prospects. If the Tigers had held on to Castellanos — who months earlier switched to Scott Boras as his agent, known for signing clients to long-term, lucrative contracts — they might have received a nice gift in the form of a first-round compensation pick.
But the Tigers know Boras well enough to realize that Castellanos was going to get his money, and it was going to be more than the $50 million threshold for the compensation pick. They certainly knew Castellanos well enough to realize he wasn’t going to accept the potential $17.8 million qualifying offer to return to the same situation in Detroit.
Maybe it’s a lot simpler than that. Maybe the Tigers just don’t believe Castellanos is worth that kind of money.
But if not Castellanos, then who? If not at that price, then how much? And where are they going to find this hitter, the one who should look and cost awfully similar to the one who was right under their thumb for years.
Contact Anthony Fenech at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
Published at Wed, 29 Jan 2020 12:35:13 +0000