Should the Phillies explore a Nick Castellanos trade this offseason?

MLB Phillies Nick Castellanos, who is playing in the 2023 MLB All Star Game
ATLANTA, GA Ð OCTOBER 12: Philadelphia right fielder Nick Castellanos (8) runs to first base during game 2 of the NLDS between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves on October 12th, 2022 at Truist Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Phillies don’t have to worry about losing any key position players in free agency this year or next year. But just because the nine starting position players that ended the 2023 season are under team control for at least two more seasons doesn’t mean that there won’t be any changes. Among the biggest ones rumored to be in play is a trade involving Nick Castellanos.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported that the Phillies are “open to the idea of trading” Castellanos. However, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the team has “no intention of trading him.” Regardless of how badly the Phillies do or don’t want to trade one of the biggest Scooby-Doo fans in baseball, it’s notable to see his name pop up in trade rumors.

Now in a window of title contention, they must maintain aggression in their pursuit of a championship. Trading Castellanos is not something Philly must do in order to improve. But it’s also not something they should rule out.

Phillies Nationals nick castellanos
Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against Washington Nationals pitcher MacKenzie Gore during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Nick Castellanos’ value with the Philllies

Nick Castellanos was named one of the Phillies’ two All-Stars in 2023 (along with everyone’s favorite closer, Craig Kimbrel), providing consistent production during a portion of the season where Philadelphia struggled to get by. While Bryce Harper was still working his way to first base and Trea Turner was nightmarishly bad, Casty had 104 hits — including 26 doubles and 13 home runs — along with 55 RBI and a 124 wRC+ in 87 games before the All-Star break.

But over the second half of the season, Castellanos more closely resembled the underwhelming player he was in his first Phillies season. Once his batting average on balls in play of .382 plummeted to .278 as he hit fewer line drives and more fly balls, his value fell.

Castellanos’ propensity for swinging first and asking questions later makes him maddening to watch. Among the 2023 Phillies, he topped the leaderboard in whiff rate and recorded the highest percentages in overall swings and out-of-the-zone chases of any everyday player. Turner’s plate approach is similar. Relying on two of these types of hitters may not be sustainable for a World Series favorite. Turner being locked in for a decade makes the decision of which guy to keep much easier.

On the other hand, losing Nick Castellanos and Rhys Hoskins would be tough to swallow for a group of players that, by all indications, are as tight-knit as any team in sports. Castellanos may not be the frontline star of the team or a long-tenured player but his brand of leadership is important. Always quick to pick up his downtrodden teammates or defend them in public amid struggles, the value of having guys like Castellanos cannot be understated.

Phillies nick castellanos
Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos (8) celebrates his solo home run with Jean Segura during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

As an added bonus, his family has become beloved by the city and fans. Whether it’s his son Liam reacting in adorable fashion to one of his big plays, his wife Jess interacting with fans online regularly or one of their multiple T-shirt-driven fundraisers, the Castellanos family has made a beautiful imprint on the Phillies and their faithful.

While all of that is truly delightful and one of many examples as to why these Phillies are so easy to root for, the business of professional sports demands itself to be cold and calculating for the sake of chasing glory. As evidenced by Hoskins getting squeezed out of a starting spot, the team has to make moves that it believes will help it win. However, moving off of Nick Castellanos may not be part of their vision.

Why the Phillies probably won’t trade Nick Castellanos 

Although the Phillies may be frustrated with Nick Castellanos’ performance down the stretch of the 2023 NLCS — who among us isn’t? — he’s still the type of hitter that they value. In his exit interview, team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski explained a personal baseball philosophy of his that explains why.

“If you ask me, I’d rather lead the league in doubles than I would in home runs,” he said. “I think guys that hit doubles have a better way of approaching the ball, they use the whole field…Our approach is to use the whole field, hit doubles…”

That’s a big reason why the Phillies signed Nick Castellanos. The long-balls are obviously great but hitting two-baggers is a huge part of his game. He’s one of just 17 guys with 100 doubles in the last three seasons, getting one in 6.07 percent of his at-bats. Out of the 395 players with at least 500 at-bats in the past three seasons, Casty ranks in the 88th percentile in doubles rate.

Phillies Nick Castellanos, who is playing in the 2023 MLB All-Star Game
Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos (8) celebrates with teammates after scoring on an Edmundo Sosa single during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Although 2023 saw him pull the ball more and hit to the opposite field less, Nick Castellanos has used the whole field well. He’s got the pop to punish mistakes from opposing pitchers. On a rate basis, Alec Bohm was the only Phillie who did a better job scoring the runners he had on base than Casty last season. Streaky as he may be, he’s a good ball player whose improvement from 2022 to ’23 suggests he’s getting much better acquainted with what is still a relatively new home.

If the Phillies were to trade their starting right field of the past two seasons, who would take his place? Opting for a prospect would be an odd choice given the team’s direction, so Dombrowski would seemingly only trade Castellanos once he has his replacement lined up.

Who would Phillies swap Nick Castellanos out for?

The pickings are not too bountiful when it comes to guys who could instantly be upgrades over Nick Castellanos.

In free agency, the biggest names are Cody Bellinger, Teoscar Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be opening a fire sale soon so Christian Yelich might be available. The rumors about Juan Soto getting traded again have not ceased. These are the five guys who seem like somewhat realistic options.

However, since we’re talking about the Phillies’ offseason, we are obligated to mention Mike Trout as a possibility, however likely or unlikely it may be. The injury concerns are there after 80 games missed last season and 126 missed two seasons ago. But at the end of the day, he’s Mike Trout. Even if he won’t play as many games as Castellanos, the production in those games would undoubtedly be better. As long as he’s healthy enough to help Philly get to October and play then, it would be all good.

Now, onto the guys who find themselves with more legitimate/known availability. If the Phillies can land Soto, they have to pull out all the stops. Not only did he only just turn 25 and is friends with Turner and Harper but he’s the type of disciplined yet strong bat that can kick the offense into a new gear. Losing the righty-lefty balance by replacing Castellanos with Soto would be of no concern.

Phillies
San Diego Padres’ Juan Soto reacts after striking out during the fourth inning in Game 1 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

If that dream scenario cannot be brought to reality, the next best option on the trade market is Christian Yelich. His MVP-level days are probably over but he provides a more consistent presence at the plate than Nick Castellanos at the cost of less power. The 31-year-old’s walk rate is consistently above average and he’s among the best in the league at recording hard hits (i.e. hits above 95 miles per hour). He’s also a better base runner and defender, grading above average in both areas.

Cody Bellinger and Yuli Gurriel are both impressively strikeout-averse but only one would give the Phils a surefire boost over Castellanos: the MVP who immediately followed Yelich. While also not what he once was, Bellinger is still a productive hitter with pop and would even give the Phils some lineup flexibility with his ability to play first base. If — note the if — he is truly, fully back after miserable 2021 and 2022 seasons, he would make for a worthy Casty replacement.

The Phillies trading Nick Castellanos only to sign Hernandez would be ridiculous. His results at the plate are very similar to Castellanos: home-run power but lots of whiffs and strikeouts. While he’s more valuable on defense, Philly would be better suited to just keep their guy if his replacement would have a similar style of play.

At the end of the day, the Phillies’ right field spot could definitely be better but is also not a gaping roster hole. They have a guy there who just had an All-Star-worthy first half, is valuable as a leader in the clubhouse and still has a few more years left on his contract. Nick Castellanos, for all his flaws, is not someone to urgently dump onto a new team just for the sake of getting someone else. If a legitimate upgrade isn’t available, bringing him back to start the 2024 season is the right way to go.

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire