By: Will Burchfield
Al Avila has cashed in most of his chips in the Tigers' rebuild, but a few assets remain at his disposal.
Foremost among them is Nicholas Castellanos.
The rising slugger is coming off a career year at the plate and costs an affordable $6.05 million in 2018. He's arbitration eligible for one year beyond that. There are obvious concerns about his defense, particularly his ability to make the transition from third base to right field, but his bat is impressive enough to make him a commodity on the trade market.
"Multiple teams" have spoken with the Tigers about Castellanos this offseason, according to the Free Press, and Avila has indicated the club is open to moving him.
In an ideal world, the Tigers would lock up Castellanos into his free-agency years. It would assure them a middle-of-the-lineup run producer when their rebuild begins to bloom. But talks quickly stalled when the Tigers approached Castellanos about an extension toward the end of last season and haven't resumed since.
"The interest is not really there at this point," Avila told reporters at the Winter Meetings, referring not to the team but to the player.
On the field, the Tigers have no real use for Castellanos this season and next. His offense will go to waste on a team that's going to lose. They're better served trading him while his value is highest, and his value may never be higher than it is now.
On top of his impressive counting stats last season -- 26 home runs, 101 RBI, 72 extra-base hits -- Castellanos racked up some of the best contact rates in baseball. He has the makings of an All Star-caliber hitter. As for his defense, the questions may only grow louder if Castellanos struggles in right field at the start of this season, as he did mightily so at the end of last.
Entering his age-26 season and under team control for one more, Castellanos could fetch a solid return in a trade. If Avila is inclined to pull the trigger, here are four teams that might be interested and the prospects the Tigers might seek in exchange.
1. Blue Jays
Since parting ways with right fielder Jose Bautista, Toronto has been seeking a bat in the outfield. The recently-signed Curtis Granderson, now 36 and well into his decline, doesn't figure to be the everyday answer. If the Blue Jays hope to contend next season, their offense needs to revert to its power-hitting ways. Castellanos could certainly help the cause.
Ideal target: The Tigers would love to land center fielder Anthony Alford, the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect and the No. 44 prospect in baseball. That position remains a huge question mark in Detroit's rebuild, even after the acquisition of Daz Cameron in the Justin Verlander trade. But it would take more than Castellanos to lure Alford from the Blue Jays, and the Tigers might not have the Major League-ready talent to make it happen.
Next target: With Jose Iglesias soon to be gone, Avila has acknowledged the Tigers need to grow a shortstop within. Neither Isaac Paredes nor Dawel Lugo projects as a shortstop long-term, and defensive whiz Sergio Alcantara is still years away. The Blue Jays could offer an appealing alternative in Richard Urena, their No. 10 prospect who spent last season at Double-A. He's a switch-hitter with good bat speed, and he's said to have a terrific arm.
Arizona is still trying to retain J.D. Martinez, but they might get priced out of the bidding. If so, Castellanos could be a cheaper fallback option. The Diamondbacks are coming off their first playoff appearance in six years, buoyed largely be their offense, and they'll want to maintain that momentum in 2018.
Ideal target: If it's true you can never have too many arms, righty Jon Duplantier would be a coup for the Tigers. Arizona's No. 2 prospect (No. 96 overall) would join a farm system whose top four prospects are already right-handed pitchers. The 23-year-old posted a 1.39 ERA and struck out 165 batters in 136 innings last year in High-A ball.
Next target: If Detroit has a well of young right-handed talent, the pipeline is dry in the way of southpaws. Anthony Banda, the Diamondbacks' No. 4 prospect who made his MLB debut last season, could begin to balance things out. He struggled in his first go-around in the big leagues, but still averaged a strikeout per inning. The 24-year-old projects as a middle-to-back-of-the-rotation workhorse.
With the departure of Jay Bruce in free agency, Cleveland could yet again be in the market for a bat in right field. Given the challenges of maintaining a competitive team in a small market, something manager Terry Francona has openly acknowledged, the cost-controllable Castellanos would seem to have particular appeal to the Indians.
Ideal target: Given their aforementioned situation at shortstop, the Tigers would certainly take interest in Yu-Cheng Chang. Signed as one of the premier free agents out of Asia in 2013, Cleveland's No. 4 prospect has shown impressive pop in the minors, cresting in a 24-home run season last year in Double-A. His defense at short continues to improve.
Next target: While the Tigers have acquired a number of promising position players over the past few months, their farm system wants for sluggers. Outside of Christin Stewart, there's just not much pop. 19-year-old Will Benson, the Indians' first-round pick in 2016 and their No. 8 prospect, would provide a nice influx of power. He hit 10 home runs in 56 games in the Arizona League last fall, and his 6'5, 225-pound frame is only going to get stronger.
To bounce back after a disappointing 2017 season, Baltimore needs more production in right field. Much more. The team's No. 2 prospect, Austin Hays, is sure to get his shot, but he didn't show much in a 20-game cameo last year. The Orioles are loath to make big plays in free agency, so Castellanos suits Baltimore in the same manner he suits Cleveland.
Ideal target: The Tigers have long been in search of their next closer, and the Orioles look to have a good one in the making in Tanner Scott. The 23-year-old lefty, Baltimore's No. 5 prospect, routinely hits triple digits with his heater. He has predictable control issues and still needs to develop his slider, but Scott's arm is there. He racked up 87 strikeouts in 69 innings last season in Double-A.
Next target: Detroit's lack of young sluggers makes 23-year-old outfielder Anthony Santander an intriguing commodity. Baltimore's No. 9 prospect spent most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery, but popped five homers and drove in 14 runs in 15 games in Double-A. The switch-hitter has the tools to be an impact offensive player in the big leagues.
By no means do the Tigers have to trade Castellanos before the start of the 2018 season. They could hang onto him through the first half and try to deal him to a needy contender at the trade deadline. But there's inherent risk in that approach, not least because Castellanos might subdue his value in the interim. And while the opposite is possible, so is it less likely.
If Avila is open to trading Castellanos, he should strike while the iron's hot.
"Hey, if the right deal is there, possibly. But he might be a guy that we stick with," the GM said earlier this month. "He's one of those guys that we just have to go year by year, day by day and see how that turns out."
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