The Red Sox should target free-agent outfielder Nick Castellanos
The Boston Red Sox are going to enter next season with a new outfield alignment. That was made clear with the trade that shipped Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom isn’t done reshaping this outfield.
While the return of Jackie Bradley Jr. grabbed the headlines, absorbing his contract in order to improve the haul of prospects they received from the Brewers was the motivation behind the deal. Following an abysmal season at the plate during his short stint in Milwaukee, Bradley Jr. can’t be counted on as an everyday outfielder. He can provide value as a defensive replacement but the Red Sox will still aim to add another outfielder once the lockout is lifted.
Re-signing Kyle Schwarber is at the top of many wish lists this holiday season and the club remains interested in a reunion. Schwarber excelled after the Red Sox acquired him in a mid-season trade with the Washington Nationals, hitting .291 with a .957 OPS in 41 games with Boston. “Kyle from Waltham” became an instant fan-favorite and proved to be a strong fit in the clubhouse. He deserves to be on the team’s radar but that doesn’t necessarily mean Schwarber is the best remaining outfielder on the free-agent market.
As well as Schwarber performed with the Red Sox, Nick Castellanos has greater potential. Castellanos had a career year for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .309 with a .939 OPS, 34 home runs and 100 RBI. His 140 wRC+ was tied for 12th in the majors, comfortably ahead of any qualified hitter on the Red Sox roster.
Schwarber’s emergence as an All-Star feels a bit more of an outlier compared to Castellanos, who has been knocking on the door to that status for a few years before finally earning his first trip to the Midsummer Classic this year.
Schwarber’s .266 batting average was easily a personal best for the career .237 hitter. His .928 OPS was also a career-high and only the second time he’s topped an .850 OPS. Castellanos owns a career .278 average that is well above Schwarber’s best. Castellanos also posted a career-high with a .939 OPS and he’s been above an .850 OPS in three of the last four years.
Since 2018, Castellanos owns a 126 wRC+ that ranks 12th among major league hitters with 2000+ plate appearances over that span.
Schwarber owns an impressive 121 wRC+ over that same time period and he hit 30+ homers for the third time in his career this season. This was the first year that Castellanos has reached that threshold, giving the power edge to Schwarber.
While Schwarber has the higher ceiling for home runs, Castellanos is an extra-base hitting machine. His 153 doubles are by far the most in the majors since 2018. With a right-handed pull swing tailor made for taking aim at the Green Monster, Castellanos is a great fit for Fenway Park.
This park is built for doubles more than it is for homers, especially for a lefty pull-heavy slugger like Schwarber. We saw Schwarber go on a remarkable power binge in June while he was with the Nationals, smashing 16 home runs in 18 games. He hit only seven with the Red Sox.
Boston’s lineup currently leans a bit heavy to the left side following the Renfroe trade, which prompted Bloom to admit that a right-handed bat would be a better fit. That doesn’t rule out a Schwarber reunion but it could be a factor in pushing Castellanos to the top of Boston’s list of targets.
Defense is a challenge for both players. By Statcast’s Outs Above Average, they were equally awful with -6 last season. Only 10 major league outfielders were worse by that metric. If the Red Sox sign either player, they would be bidding their time until J.D. Martinez’s contract expires so they can take over the designated hitter role.
In the meantime, Fenway’s shallow left field would help mask some of their defensive deficiencies. Alex Verdugo also rated poorly in the outfield this year but he performed admirably in right field during the shortened 2020 season and could take Renfroe’s place at the position if the Red Sox sign a more defensively challenged outfielder that they need to stick in left.
Cost will undoubtedly be a factor when choosing between these free-agent outfielders. Neither will be cheap but they aren’t expected to break Boston’s budget either. FanGraphs projects similar deals for both outfielders, with Castellanos’ median price tag landing at a 4-year, $64 million deal and Schwarber at 4-year, $60 million.
Castellanos declined a qualifying offer, which means the Red Sox would forfeit a second-round pick if they sign him. They couldn’t extend an offer to Schwarber since he was acquired mid-season, so there’s no compensation if he leaves. Boston will get a comp pick for losing Eduardo Rodriguez to Detroit though, which helps negate the penalty for signing Castellanos. The Red Sox also have an additional second-round pick in their pocket since they failed to sign Jud Fabian in this year’s draft. The draft pick has to be factored into the price but Boston is in a fairly unique position that allows them to afford this penalty.
Schwarber had an excellent stint down the stretch with the Red Sox and few will complain if he signs a new deal that keeps him in Boston. If the price ends up being relatively similar though, Castellanos’ bat is the better fit for this ballpark. If he lands in Boston, the number of doubles he could pile up at Fenway will be off the charts.