The Yankees, much to the frustration of their fans, largely sat out the opening round of free agency. The team still has areas that will need to be addressed following the approval of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Despite a number of high-profile free agents coming off the board, there are still numerous talented players that will be available when the market reopens. One of those players is outfielder Nick Castellanos, who has been a consistently above average hitter since 2016 and is coming off his best season yet while playing for the Cincinnati Reds. Let’s take a look at what Castellanos has to offer the Yankees, and if the player and team are a theoretical match.
Castellanos’ bat is his calling card, as he slashed .309/.362/.576, good for a 140 wRC+. It was his best season, but outside of the COVID shortened 2020, he has not produced a wRC+ below 122 since the 2017 season.
The Yankees are known as a team that prioritizes exit velocity and hard hit rate, and those are both things that Castellanos does much better than average. He routinely barrels up the ball and generates the strong expected stats that they like to add to the roster.
Holding Castellanos back is his poor defense. Despite having above average sprint speed, he gets poor jumps on the ball and finished in just the sixth percentile of Outs Above Average for outfielders. He had the second-worst OAA for any right fielder in baseball. That could be mitigated by the short-porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, but the team is more than set with an elite bat and defender in Aaron Judge manning right field day in and day out.
Castellanos has played more major league innings at third base than any other position despite not playing the position since 2017. He was a below average defender at the hot corner prior to his move to the outfield, and with players like Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto manning first base for the teams he played for a switch across the diamond was not in works. While he is most likely to remain in the outfield, it is not out of the question that a team will look to move Castellanos bat to an infield corner at some point in the future. This is likely something that would interest the Yankees, but it does not feel like that is his current market or what teams are looking to do with him at this time.
The market for Castellanos is likely to be determined by the expected introduction of the universal DH. When the 15 National League teams are in need of a DH, Castellanos’ bat will become slightly more attractive to some teams who will no longer need to live with his defense. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that he will receive a five-year, $115 million deal in free agency. It is unlikely that the Yankees will see the need for a defensively-challenged player who plays the same position as the best player on the team in Aaron Judge at that amount.
A quick look at the Yankee roster shows that the team could use a steady upgrade in center field, but that is not something that Castellanos can offer. He is not a viable center fielder by any means, and the Yankees have Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton manning the corners for the coming year.
The Yankees’ interest in Castellanos could develop if any sort of unexpected injury problem develops before Castellanos signs with a new team. The Yankees could also make a decision that Aaron Judge or Joey Gallo will be a regular piece in center field, opening up a corner spot for either Stanton or Castellanos. Neither scenario is likely, and it feels like a long-shot that the Yankees will consider Castellanos too deeply.
Nick Castellanos hit free agency coming off his best offensive season, but did not sign in the pre-lockout free agent period. He does not appear to be a strong fit for the Yankees, as his corner-outfield, DH profile is already occupied by other members of the roster. Should his market tank, or the Yankees make a series of moves, then Castellanos could be a bat on their radar, but it is unlikely at this point.