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On Nicholas Castellanos and the Texas Rangers

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Jon Daniels comments yesterday suggest the Rangers and free agent Nicholas Castellanos may not be a match

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Rumors: Nicholas Castellanos and the Texas Rangers have seemed like an ideal match in recent days, with Texas having solidified its starting rotation and filled some holes in the lineup while still searching for an impact righthanded bat that could play first base, while Castellanos has remained on the market and is running out of obvious suitors. When Mike Petriello ranked the best fits for Castellanos just a couple of days ago, he had the Rangers as the top choice, given their need for a righty middle of the order bat.

And yet, yesterday, while taking questions from fans during the Peek at the Park event at the new stadium, Jon Daniels indicated that the Rangers may not make any more significant additions, and that if they did, well...

“I would think that if we do make any significant acquisition, a trade is more likely than a free agent,” Daniels said.

And he feels that way because …

“Just the discussions we’ve had make me feel that way,” Daniels said.

As you can see from this morning’s links posts, there were three different articles this morning from three different writers offering their interpretation on this, and what it means as far as Castellanos goes.

Personally, I think it means that there’s certainly not a deal close with Castellanos, but other than that, I don’t know that there’s a ton to read into this. At this stage in the offseason, Castellanos is arguably the only player still out there as a free agent that the Rangers could potentially sign who would qualify as a “significant acquisition.”

The Rangers are only going to go outside the organization on the position player side to add a first baseman or a center fielder. Castellanos is the only first base option of note out there, even though played right field in 2019 — Mitch Moreland is still out there, but Texas likely would go with Ronald Guzman, with Danny Santana as a fallback option, rather than bring Moreland in, and after that you’re talking about guys who would be NRIs. As for center field, Kevin Pillar and Jarrod Dyson are free agents, but I don’t know that either would qualify as “significant” additions.

And as for pitchers, well, the rotation is full of veterans with guaranteed deals, and there’s no one on the reliever market Texas is likely to spend significant money on. So if we are talking about significant additions via free agency, well, we are only talking about Castellanos.

As far as the state of the market for Castellanos goes, there’s not a ton of obvious suitors out there. The Chicago Cubs, who acquired Castellanos last summer, were rumored to have interest in bringing him back if they could clear some salary, and Castellanos was said to have a good deal of interest in returning to Chicago. But nothing happened on that front, and the Cubs have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, which would give them five outfielders and no room for Castellanos, barring a trade.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds are the two teams that are mentioned as the #2 and #3 options by Petriello in his piece. As Petriello notes, the Reds have no real room for Castellanos — Joey Votto is their first baseman and they have a full outfield — but they’ve been linked to him nonetheless, after having been rumored to have been in on Marcell Ozuna before he signed with Atlanta. As for St. Louis, they were rumored to be the likely destination for Ozuna before he signed, and could use someone like Castellanos in their outfield, though it isn’t clear that that’s a priority for them right now.

Castellanos, meanwhile, is in kind of a difficult spot. He’s a young free agent (he doesn’t turn 28 until March) and he wasn’t eligible for the qualifying offer, so he won’t cost a draft pick and international bonus pool dollars. He also, however, is a righthanded bat-only guy at a time where righthanded bat-only guys are out of favor among MLB decision makers. He’s a solid middle-of-the-order bat, but not a game-changing bat — his 121 wRC+ in 2019 tied him for 47th in MLB among qualified hitters — and a solid middle-of-the-order bat with a problematic glove is going to be valued by teams as a 2-3 win player.

Castellanos can accept the best offer available now, which is probably something like $15-17 million per year for 3 or 4 years. Or he can decide to take a one year pillow contract with an eye towards seeing his bat take a step forward and getting a more lucrative deal next offseason with a weak free agent class, though that means re-entering the market a year older and, most likely, with a qualifying offer attached.

Or he can wait, see if something happens with the Kris Bryant situation, see if the St. Louis Cardinals’ interest increases if a Nolan Arenado trade doesn’t develop, see if his agent, Scott Boras, can get in an owner’s ear and convince him he needs Castellanos, and potentially cash in with a better deal.

If I were to guess, I would say that the Rangers have made it clear to Boras what their financial parameters are for signing Castellanos, Boras has made it clear what Castellanos wants in order to sign right now, and neither side is willing to move at this point. The Rangers are moving forward under the assumption that they aren’t signing Castellanos, and are planning according, though I suspect that if Castellanos’ market doesn’t develop like he hopes and he decides to re-engage with the Rangers, they are ready and willing to do that. And I suspect that Boras and Castellanos believe that whatever offers are out there and available right now will still be out there and available in two weeks.

We have, of course, talked about how Boras client Kris Bryant and his pending grievance could be part of why Castellanos has not signed, as Bryant is rumored to potentially be on the trade market, but Bryant won’t be dealt until his grievance is resolved and teams know whether he will be a free agent after 2020 or 2021 (though my theory that Castellanos was waiting because a Bryant trade could free up money for the Cubs to re-sign him appears to be out the window with the Souza deal, unless the Cubs want to put Castellanos back at third base, where he used to play, very poorly). There’s another Boras client out there, though, whose situation could also impact Castellanos — Jackie Bradley Jr., who is due to make $11 million this year before becoming a free agent, and who the Boston Red Sox are rumored to be willing to move. I do wonder to what extent Bradley’s fluid situation is impacting things.

In any case, we are in wait-and-see mode. Castellanos could end up signing with Texas, or he could go elsewhere, but for now, the Rangers appear to be moving forward as if he will end up with another team in 2020.

UPDATE — And as I was doing this post, Jon Morosi dropped an article saying that the Reds are the frontrunners for Castellanos, with the San Francisco Giants also in the mix. I will note that, if the Reds land Castellanos, it would seem to set the stage for them to move one of their other outfielders, and Jesse Winker, for example, might be someone the Rangers may have interest in looking at as a potential first baseman.