11:24 p.m.: The agreement does not contain any opt-out clause, tweet USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
10:32 p.m.: It’s a five-year deal worth $100 million, Heyman reports (Twitter link).
10:27 p.m.: Phillies OK with free agent outfielder Nick Castellanosreports ESPN’s Jeff Passan (on Twitter). MLB Network’s Jon Heyman had tweeted shortly before, the parties were close to reaching an agreement. Castellanos is a client of Boras Corporation.
It’s the second notable strike in three days for the Phillies, who agreed to terms with the slugger Kyle Schwarber on a four-year contract on Wednesday. As teams like the Mets and Braves continue to add to their rosters to battle for first place in Eastern Newfoundland, the Phils have added two impact sticks to the middle of their order.
Castellanos, 30, became a free agent in November after exercising an opt-out and opted out of the final two years and $34 million remaining on a four-year, $64 million deal with the Reds. The decision was eminently predictable, given the strength of its production in Cincinnati. The Reds made Castellanos a qualifying offer, which he naturally rejected, meaning he would cost the Phillies their second-highest pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool. The Reds, meanwhile, will get a compensatory pick after the first round of the 2022 draft.
Adding Castellanos to a roster that already includes reigning NL MVP Schwarber Bryce Harperstar catcher JT Realmutoslugger Rhys Hoskins and constant productivity Jean Segura gives the Phillies the potential for a dominating roster – especially if young talent likes Alec Bohm and best prospect Bryson Stott can solidify themselves as big league contributors. As a team, the 2021 Phillies were a midfield group, ranking 13th in the Majors in runs scored (706), 15th in homers (198), 18th in batting average (.240), 13th in on-base percentage (.318), 14th in slugging percentage (.408) and tied for 18th in wRC+ (93).
Castellanos, who will likely split time with Schwarber between left field and the National League’s new designated hitter slot, is coming off the best season of his big league career. In 585 plate appearances with the Reds, he hit a career-high .309/.362/.576 batting line with 34 homers. He doesn’t offer a huge walk rate, but Castellanos hits at a below average rate and is a consistent source of high batting averages and slugging percentages.
A long-time stable and productive hitter with his home organization, the Tigers, Castellanos took his game to new heights after being traded to the Cubs in 2019. Since that trade, he’s put together an outstanding strike line. 292/.346/.571 with 64 home runs, 70 doubles and three triples in 1,052 plate appearances between Chicago and Cincinnati. That production registers 34% better than the league average, as measured by wRC+, and not much about it looks hazy. Castellanos consistently posts hard hit rates north of 40% and barrel rates north of 10%, which, combined with his above-average bat-to-ball skills, leads Statcast to rank him among the leaders in the game. game in terms of expected batting average and expected slugging percentage. on an annual basis.
Of course, the addition of Castellanos to an already defensively contested squad whose offseason signing thus far has been defensively contested Schwarber creates its own concerns. Castellanos has improved his defense in right field since his first start from third base earlier in his career, but he still ranks as a well-below-par defenseman in both corners. The 2021 Phillies have already placed last in Majors in Defensive Runs Saved, and that wasn’t a problem unique to last year’s team. The Phillies have ranked among baseball’s worst defensive teams for over half a decade now, routinely trotting out below-average defenders and embarking on curious defensive experiments that haven’t proven successful (e.g. Rhys Hoskins in the left field).
Bringing Castellanos into the mix won’t fix this longstanding organizational flaw, but it will nonetheless turn an already deep Phillies roster into one of the most formidable units in the entire National League. Since the Phils also have a high rotation – Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez, Kyle Gibson – the hope is that a good tee shot and a potentially inflexible formation could prevail despite questionable gloves and a bullpen that has several question marks.
To get to that point, the Phils will push their payroll north of the base luxury tax threshold. It’s not yet clear how the money will be distributed, but adding $20 million to Philadelphia’s books would push their 2022 payroll to a franchise-record high of $233+MM, according to Jason Martinez’s estimate. from Roster Resource. The financial breakdown is a moot point regarding the luxury tax anyway, as these numbers are calculated by adding together the average annual values of a team’s commitments.
From a CBT perspective, Castellanos’ average annual value of $20 million is the relevant number, regardless of how the money is paid. That will push the Phillies’ luxury tax calculation to just north of $236 million, according to Roster Resource. That’s above this year’s $230 million base threshold, which puts the Phillies as a taxpayer for now.
They might try to come back under the tax. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters early in the offseason that Didi Gregoire the starting shortstop position was not guaranteed. His deal has a CBT impact of $14 million, so finding a taker for that money could be a way to avoid paying the tax. That would be easier said than done, however; given the season Gregorius just had, Philadelphia would probably have to include young talent from an already weak farming system to make that money.
You could argue that the Phils shouldn’t worry about the tax at all. As first payer, they are subject to a 20% tax on any dollar spent between $230 million and $250 million. As it stands, they would be subject to a fee of just over $1 million – a trivial sum for a club that already spends over $230 million on wage bills. The biggest deterrent to narrowly exceeding the threshold is that the CBA contains escalating penalties for teams that overshoot in multiple consecutive seasons.
The Phillies, however, haven’t made the playoffs in ten years. It’s the National League’s longest active drought, one the front office and owner John Middleton are eager to break. The hiring of Dombrowski — a notoriously aggressive executive — last offseason meant the property was willing to invest some tokens as part of an effort to get a competitive team back on the field. In one of the most impactful moves of his year-plus tenure, he’ll bring in a player he’s quite familiar with from their overlapping time with the Tigers.
Aligning with that winning mentality now, the Phillies are content to sacrifice two draft picks to bring Castellanos into the fold. Because Cincinnati made it a qualifying offer, Philadelphia will lose its second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2022 draft and $1 million in international bonus space as compensation for signing Castellanos.
Time will tell if the Phillies have done enough to overcome the bullpen and the aforementioned defensive issues in a tough division. They could keep trying to bolster the roster, with center field, shortstop and third base all standing out as varying areas of concern. Further additions to the payroll would cause additional tax problems. The Phillies would pay a 32% tax on any overage between $250 million and $270 million, with higher penalties if they push even beyond that mark. That kind of spending spree seems unlikely, but the Phils have already pushed to never-before-seen levels with the franchise in hopes of building one of the best offenses in the game.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.