One of the few things that national media and Marlins local media agree on: Nick Castellanos was a legitimate candidate to sign with the club while Derek Jeter was their CEO. Now with Jeter gone, they may be out on the 30-year-old free agent.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald tweeted the latest updates on Tuesday morning:
The impression left with the source is Marlins simply don't want to spend that amount of money on a player of his caliber. Marlins can justify by saying they need natural CF alongside A. Garcia, J. Sanchez, and Castellanos is corner OF. But that's not the main reason Jeter's gone https://t.co/i6UFOUoOFS— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) March 15, 2022
Indeed, Marlins say they'll spend. With Castellanos or any FA OF who wants longterm deal (5 yrs), there is concern with blocking a young OF (Bleday, Burdick) who might be able to help within a few years. Garcia under contract for 4 years, J. Sanchez under team control through '28 https://t.co/DizFoo3LZN— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) March 15, 2022
Born and raised in South Florida, Castellanos is coming off his ninth—and arguably his best—major league season. As the everyday outfielder for the 2021 Reds, he slashed .309/.362/.576 for a 140 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR. On the heels of that, he opted out of the final two years and $34 million of his contract.
There were pre-lockout reports that super-agent Scott Boras was seeking as many as eight years guaranteed for Castellanos on his next deal, though Jackson suggests that the ask has now come down to five years. If we conservatively estimate that a five-year offer at the same average annual value as his previous deal would get it done, that’s a $85 million commitment. Again, that’s being conservative. Boras clients historically wait as long as it takes to maximize their earnings.
Also keep in mind, Castellanos is tied to draft-pick compensation after rejecting Cincinnati’s qualifying offer. The Marlins would have to sacrifice their third-highest pick in the 2022 MLB Draft to ink him. That is no small consideration for an organization that prides itself on amateur scouting.
I’m surprised we are even talking about Castellanos at this stage of the offseason. He was absolutely worth kicking the tires on in November when the Marlins had a bare-bones outfield, somebody to invest in instead of Avisaíl García. Playing them side by side, with García being miscast as a center fielder, is a recipe for bad defense and limited payroll flexibility, particularly several years down the road. Pull the trigger anyway if you expect Castellanos to age gracefully, but it’s fair to have doubts about that.
Castellanos homered in 5.8% of his plate appearances while with the Reds. However, his career rate from 2013-2019 was barely half as high (3.3%). How much did hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park skew that? A version of Castellanos that reverts to his career norms in the long ball department simply isn’t as valuable.
Jackson relays the Marlins’ apparent concern about depriving JJ Bleday and Peyton Burdick of MLB reps. I think that part is bullshit. Injuries happen. If either guy is excelling at Triple-A this season, they will have opportunities for a cup of coffee in The Show at the very least. Neither outfielder is on the 40-man roster yet! Even if they are “blocked” for the entirety of 2022, the Marlins will have three minor league options to use on them in future years. This is not by any means a make-or-break season for either.
It is a poorly kept secret that the Marlins are prioritizing Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates above all other outfield targets. A trade for him would include four years of club control at a fraction of Castellanos’ price as he begins his years of arbitration eligibility. His offensive output is Castellanos-like, plus he’d be a viable option in center field, which Kim Ng admitted is the roster’s most glaring need. But as I have reiterated multiple times, there is not much motivation from Pittsburgh’s perspective to trade Reynolds right now.
The other everyday-caliber free agent outfielders who have been linked to the Marlins at various points are Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler. Any of the four should be attainable on shorter-length deals than Castellanos. Only Conforto is capable of passable defense in center, though.
My best guess at which outfielder the Marlins will add in the coming weeks: Ramón Laureano of the Athletics. They’re in the midst of tearing down their roster and just acquired Cristian Pache to be a possible CF successor. Getting the toolsy Laureano, who’s still finishing up an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, would not force the Fish to part with any of their top-tier prospects. An interesting consequence of that suspension: he’s been unable to accrue MLB service time. Depending on his precise reinstatement date, Laureano could potentially see his free agent eligibility pushed back a full year (putting him on the same timeline as Reynolds).
As of Tuesday, the Marlins are forecasted by FanGraphs for a 79-83 record with an 18.8% chance to earn a postseason berth.