The Problem(s) With Trading Nick Castellanos

Phillies slugger Nick Castellanos has seen his name pop up on the rumor mill this week, with Mark Feinsand of reporting that the team is “open” to moving him in a potential trade. There’s no indication any deal is close at this time.

Frankly, it’s only natural that the Phillies would be open to moving Castellanos. He’s entering the third season of a five-year, $100MM contract and has not played up to expectations to this point. Castellanos’ 2023 campaign (.272/.311/.476, 29 homers) was far better than his 2022 season (.263/.305/.389, 13 home runs), but it still wasn’t anywhere close to the standout production he turned in with the Reds during his final season in Cincinnati (.309/.362/.576, 34 homers).

Castellanos has never graded as even an average defender in the outfield, and his two seasons in Philadelphia haven’t changed that. He’s played just over 2300 innings in right field with the Phils and been dinged for -17 Defensive Runs Saved. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him at -20.2, and Statcast has him at 19 outs below average. The huge offensive output that Castellanos produced in 2018, 2019 and 2021 more than offset his shaky glovework, but he was below average at the plate with the Phils in 2022 and only about nine percent better than average at the plate in 2023 (by measure of wRC+, which weights for home park and league run-scoring environment).

As with any free-agent signing, the Phillies were surely most interested in the first few years of the long-term deal to which they inked Castellanos. He’s played out his age-30 and age-31 seasons in red pinstripes and is now heading into his age-32 campaign. As he moves into his mid-30s, it stands to reason that Castellanos’ defense will only slip further. His average sprint speed (as measured by Statcast) dipped from 27.7 feet per second in 2022 to 27.2 in 2023. That checks into the 46th percentile of MLB players, and his arm strength (83.5 mph average on his throws) tied for 142nd out of 152 qualified outfielders.

There are also some red flags in his offensive profile; Castellanos has seen his exit velocity and barrel rates drop in Philadelphia, while this past season’s 27.6% strikeout rate was the worst of his career in a full 162-game season. He’s never walked at an especially high clip, but his patience is also on the decline. Castellanos drew a free pass in 7.3% of his plate appearances during his final two seasons with the Reds. That’s dropped to 5.3% in two seasons with the Phillies. Meanwhile, he’s chasing pitches off the plate more than ever before (43.1% with the Phils; 37.1% in his career prior). As a result, his contact rate has plummeted. This past season’s 66.6% contact rate is nearly five percentage points south of his career 71.5% mark.

There’s virtually no way the Phillies would be able to move the entirety of Castellanos’ contract and receive something of value in return. Even just getting someone to take on the entire contract in a straight salary dump might not be feasible.

That said, it’s a woeful crop of free agent bats, and Castellanos still popped 29 homers with an above-average batting line. A club with more playing time at designated hitter could have some interest in swapping out an underwater contract of its own that better fits the Phillies’ roster. The Phils could also pay down some of Castellanos’ contract, but they’d likely need to include a substantial amount of cash in order to make it a palatable deal for a trade partner — let alone to acquire meaningful players in return.

The free-agent market, for instance, features right-handed bats of generally similar skill set in the form of Teoscar Hernandez, Jorge Soler, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Hunter Renfroe. Hernandez is a year younger than Castellanos. Gurriel is two years younger. Taking on Castellanos at $60MM for his age-32 through age-34 seasons when there are younger and/or less expensive comparables on the free-agent market isn’t likely to hold widespread appeal throughout the league. Soler, in particular, is coming off a stronger season at the plate but might not even cost as much as the remaining sum on Castellanos’ contract.

Given the overall lack of quality bats on the market, it’s possible there’ll be some interest in acquiring Castellanos at a lower price than what’s left on his five-year deal. That the Phillies are “open” to trading him should come as no surprise. Actually finding a way to facilitate a deal would be another story.

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