In a stunning deadline development the Cubs have acquired Nicholas Castellanos from the Tigers for right-handed pitching prospects Alex Lange (23rd best prospect according to MLB) and Paul Richan (16th). While an oft-rumored proposition in the weeks leading up to today, there seemed to be little-to-no traction on the Cubs’ pursuit of the right handed slugger, and then about ten minutes after the deadline passed the trade was announced by several outlets, including The Athletic’s indefatigable Patrick Mooney:
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) July 31, 2019
While I’m not the biggest fan of Castellanos’ fit on this Cubs squad, and considering I just called their deadline approach tepid after the pickup of Tony Kemp, this last-second move is filled with intrigue.
As with many of the moves announced just after the deadline passed — Aaron Sanchez, Zack Greinke, Sam Dyson, Tony Cingrani, et al — Castellanos is the Cubs’ response to one of their biggest needs: offensive identity against left-handed pitching. As a rental Castellanos is a true mercenary, a response to team needs right now — the Cubs parting with minor prospects in order to facilitate the deal.
To wit, the Cubs have been atrocious against lefties this season. Their .235 batting average ranks second to last, their 35 bombs against lefties ranks 22nd, and while they are walking against southpaws (10 percent) near the top of the league (fourth) they’re striking out at a horrendous clip (25.6 percent) with other metrics (wRC+, wOBA, slugging) placing them in the middle of the pack.
Clearly they needed an offensive upgrade from the right side of the dish to combat these issues, and Castellanos provides that in spades.
Can the Offensive Contribution outweigh Defensive Liability?
Castellanos absolutely rakes lefties, to the tune of .347/.415/.611, with four bombs in 72 at-bats versus southpaws. While that bat will clearly be an upgrade for a team that desperately needed help against lefties, his line against righties (.257/.308/.429, 7 homers) is also more than passable.
The question, of course, is a multi-faceted one concerning his defense. Do you move Jason Heyward to center when Castellanos starts and risk a shaky outfield defense? Do you platoon him with Kyle Schwarber in left, who slugs well against righties (.230/.321/.505), mitigating the defensive liability of both players since Schwarbs has manned left most of the season? Or do you take chances and move Castellanos around the field, who has openly stated a willingness to play several positions and came up as a (liability at) third base?
The Good Might Outweigh the Questionable
Castellanos’ addition, coupled with utility-man Tony Kemp, make for an interesting roster construction. While the Cubs are still lacking that true back-up to shortstop for Javier Baez, the positional side of the roster is now chalk-full of versatility. Maddon’s penchant for lineup changes — Heyward is leading off tonight, Willson Contreras batting second — and desire to work match-ups bodes well for a roster full of moving parts and varying strengths.
As of this publication it is unclear how the Cubs have opened up a roster spot for their new slugger, or if they received any cash from Detroit to offset his salary, but it’s not unreasonable to think that Albert Almora gets optioned to Iowa to make room.
Regardless of the corresponding roster move it’s nice to see the Cubs make a bold — albeit risky — acquisition, grabbing a bat they sorely needed against lefties. How this season unfolds is entirely uncertain, and obviously the Cubs still don’t look the part of a championship team.
But at least we can say the front office made an impact move without selling the farm. Perhaps that’s the best we can expect in 2019.
Follow Austin Bloomberg on Twitter for more Cubs news and opinion.