Nicholas Castellanos has been mentioned as a potential Cubs trade target for a while now, with the NL Central leaders spending a lot of time scouting their bottom-feeding counterparts in the AL Central. They’ve been looking at Tigers players since at least late June and the desire to shore up soft spots in the lineup makes the 27-year-old Castellanos and his expiring deal an obvious fit.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported that the Cubs had scouts in attendance more recently, noting Castellanos’s outstanding 1.090 OPS against lefties. That’s more than 300 points better than the Cubs have put together as a team through Saturday (.778) and could really balance an outfield mix that includes Kyle Schwarber (.711), Jason Heyward (.579), and Albert Almora Jr. (.543).
Nicholas Castellanos, who has a 1.090 OPS this year against LHP, is an ideal fit for NL clubs who could encounter #Dodgers LHPs Ryu, Kershaw, Urias and Hill in a playoff series. Notably, the #Cubs and #Braves have scouts in Detroit tonight. ? @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 20, 2019
Castellanos has gotten better as the season has progressed, due in no small part to setting aside trade rumors and just getting back to having fun playing baseball. His OPS vs. lefties is at 1.235 since June, a mark that includes a 15.6% walk rate and paltry 9.4% strikeout rate. And while he hasn’t hit righties as well, a .760 OPS with respective 8.5% and 18.3% walk and strikeout rates is perfectly adequate.
More than just idle speculation, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News tweeted Sunday that talk of the Cubs’ interest in Castellanos “has some teeth.” He followed that up by writing that the Cubs “have emerged as a serious suitor” for the hot-hitting outfielder (with the Indians, Rays, and Reds mentioned as scouting the outfielder heavily). McCosky said the Cubs probably want to move Jason Heyward over to center, which he’d have to do in order to accommodate a new teammate who’s played right field exclusively for the past two seasons.
The Cubs are among the teams showing interest in Nick Castellanos. They probably want to move Jason Heyward to center, add Castellanos RH bat in right. This one has some teeth.
— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) July 21, 2019
The report from @cmccosky on the Cubs interest in Nick Castellanos is correct. There have also been discussions that include Tigers closer Shane Greene. To acquire both would be fairly costly. We are 10 days from the trade deadline.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) July 21, 2019
Heyward serving as the everyday center fielder isn’t ideal, but he’s already played there a career-high 268 innings this season and can hold his own out there. And the marked offensive improvement from having Castellanos in the lineup every day should more than mitigate the defensive downgrades it would necessitate. Then, assuming Almora isn’t traded, the Cubs would have a defense-first fourth outfielder to swap in as needed.
Of course, the Cubs are certainly working on multiple fronts as the single trade deadline approaches, so they may have other outfielders in mind. That could mean going back to the well with Kansas City, whether it’s in a blockbuster for Whit Merrifield — which would reportedly require at least three MLB-ready players — or a smaller deal for Alex Gordon. Or perhaps the Cubs could find a trade partner in the Rangers, which whom they’ve had frequent dealings over the years.
It’s almost surely nothing more than coincidence, but both the Royals and Rangers have scouts in Beloit to check out some South Bend Cubs players. With the Tigers in obvious sell mode and the Cubs looking to clean up some of the deficiencies masked by their 7-1 start to the second half, we could hear more on this very soon.
Ed. note: Castellanos hit his MLB-leading 34th double as this was being written. Kris Bryant currently leads the Cubs and is tied for fourth in MLB with 28, for the sake of comparison. For a team that has struggled to put runners in scoring position and to drive them in from there, that kind of gap power would be excellent.
Ed. note: Morosi appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Central Monday morning to talk trades and proposed a hypothetical of Ian Happ and Zack Short for Castellanos. Happ obviously hasn’t contributed and Short is a middle infielder who’s kind of boxed in by MLB talent above and Nico Hoerner below, so he’s expendable in that regard. Still, that’s salty.