The most important rule for the next fan base that is cheering for Nick Castellanos is to be patient. You can't waste the joke on the day he signs or his first spring training home run. Be patient. Wait for the right time to be creative, and then you can unleash "as there's a drive into deep left field by Castellanos."
The former Cincinnati Reds center fielder is perhaps best known online these days as the subject of a popular meme, but in 2021 he also was one of the most productive hitters in the National League. After the season, Castellanos opted out of the final two years and $34 million on his Reds deal and whenever the lockout ends -- things aren't going well, by the way -- he'll stand as one of the best bats remaining on the market.
The Giants were connected to Castellanos even when Buster Posey was entrenched in the heart of their order. They have a need for a big right-handed bat, and earlier this week I looked at how Kris Bryant and Seiya Suzuki might fit. Today, it's time to take the Castellanos case for a drive ...
Why He's the Right Fit
There was some Castellanos-to-the-Giants smoke after the 2019 season, but he signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Reds and the Giants stuck to their plan and kept building methodically. It worked out well for everyone but the Reds, who once again are looking at a partial rebuild.
Statistically, it's easy to see why Castellanos would make sense. He was a first-time All-Star last season and finished 12th in MVP voting after posting a .939 OPS, 34 homers (the most of any remaining free agent) and 100 RBI. Castellanos is in a way similar to players who have broken out for the Giants. He was more of a gap-to-gap hitter in Detroit, hitting 30-plus doubles just about every year and once leading the AL with 10 triples. He had 58 doubles in 2019, but over the years he has found a way to get more balls over the fence. Castellanos had 14 homers in the shortened season and a career-high 34 last year despite playing just 138 games.
Oracle Park plays pretty fair if you pull the ball down the left field line, which Castellanos can do, and he still hits it line to line. He would lose a lot of the homers that snuck out to right in Cincinnati, but Triples Alley would be a nice consolation prize for someone who finished third in the NL in extra-base hits last year. Castellanos also had even splits last year, mashing both lefties and righties, which would allow Gabe Kapler to use his pinch-hitters and platoons elsewhere.
Castellanos, who turns 30 next month, is known for playing with a bit of an edge, and he's someone who will throw out the occasional bat flip or watch a homer soar. The benches cleared in a game with the St. Louis Cardinals last season when Castellanos stood over an opposing pitcher and flexed after scoring on a play at the plate. The sequence started with Castellanos getting drilled by an inside pitch.
"Respect is really important to us," Reds manager David Bell said afterward. "But also, you have to have an edge and toughness to play in this league. He has all that. We love how he plays the game."
The Giants are not a particularly emotional team between the lines, but they shouldn't be turned off by any of Castellanos' past. Alex Wood brought some of that fire last season and became known as someone who would quickly put an end to any sort of losing skid. In a division with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers and brash San Diego Padres also aiming for the title, the Giants could use another big dose of energy to help stay on top through 162 games.
Why He Might Not Fit
The overall 2021 numbers are shiny, but there's a glaring red flag when you dig deeper.
Castellanos had a 1.109 OPS in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park but dipped to .772 on the road. He hit 23 of his 34 homers at home and slugged 250 points higher at home than on the road. In 2020, Castellanos had a .757 OPS on the road. It's easy to imagine Castellanos peppering the gaps at Oracle Park; in reality, he would likely just end up watching a lot of those line drives and deep fly balls get knocked down by the cold air.
Castellanos ranked in the bottom five percent in chase rate last year and he strikes out far more than the Giants would like. The Giants led the NL with 3.99 pitches per plate appearance and prided themselves on wearing opponents down. Castellanos is more of a free swinger, averaging 3.70 pitches per plate appearance in 2021. The only Giant who was below that mark last year was Mauricio Dubon, and he spent the second half working on his plate discipline in Sacramento.
The bigger knock on Castellanos has always come on the other side of the ball. He has consistently rated below average as a defender and ranked 37th out of 40 qualified right fielders in Outs Above Average (-6) last season. Keeping him in right would be a massive dropoff from Gold Glove candidate Mike Yastrzemski, and while the Giants have always had a low standard in left field, moving him there would create other problems.
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The point of adding someone like Castellanos is to bolster a lineup that needs right-handed help. A Castellanos-Slater-Ruf alignment against lefties would be kind of a nightmare defensively. Yes, the DH is coming to the NL and that will boost Castellanos' market, but the Giants don't want to lock one player into that spot for the next half-decade, not when they have so many other older hitters on their roster.
The Contract Projections
Back in November, MLB Trade Rumors projected five years, $115 million for Castellanos. ESPN predicted a much more palatable three-year, $54 million deal, but since then there has been a report that the Scott Boras client is seeking a very long-term deal:
Yeah, uh, that's just not happening in San Francisco.
Castellanos also comes with an added twist. He rejected the qualifying offer, so the Giants would have to sacrifice a high draft pick if they sign him.
It was easy to make the case for sticking Suzuki in right field and there are a lot of positives to a reunion with the versatile Bryant. But assuming Castellanos gets anything close to the type of deal he's seeking, it's really difficult to see the Giants being that interested in a player with this many red flags on his resume, particularly when they already have an extremely affordable and productive player like Ruf ready to soak up more time in left field.