It should go without saying that if the Detroit Tigers go into the 2014 season without making another move, Nick Castellanos will have quite the shoes to fill.
Well, at least offensively anyway. With Prince Fielder now a member of the Texas Rangers and Ian Kinsler manning second base for the Tigers, perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera will be moving back to the first base position that he probably should have been playing at all along. Even if third base wasn’t exactly his strong suit, however, it didn’t stop his bat from making him one of the most productive hot cornerman in the bigs — as his pair of MVPs will tell you.
So while the top prospect Castellanos will likely be an instant upgrade on the glove side of things, he’ll still have his work cut out for him to be nearly as productive as the guy playing in the opposite corner.
For Detroit, it presents a bit of an interesting conundrum. On one hand, their longtime top offensive prospect is no longer blocked and they pretty much owe it to themselves to see what he’s got; on the other hand, how many growing pains can they afford from a position where they got a third-ranked 7.6 fWAR out of in 2013?
They do, after all, have baseball’s biggest prize to go after in 2014, and while playing youngsters like Jose Iglesias worked out just fine for them in 2013, it’d be a whole different story if Castellano stumbles in what would be his age-22 rookie season. It would not reflect poorly on his upside, of course, but in an increasingly competitive AL Central (the Cleveland Indians finished just one game back, and the Kansas City Royals weren’t too far off), immediate on-field production matters.
Could Castellanos step up and provide said results? Well, he certainly doesn’t have a whole lot left to prove after a strong 2013 triple-A campaign that saw him put up a .276/.343/.450 slash line with 18 homers over 595 PA, good enough for a 121 wRC+. They’re not mind-boggling numbers, but stats only mean so much in the minors, and these ones say that he should be ready to be a productive player in the bigs.
Interestingly enough, Steamer projections has him doing so more with his defense than with his bat in 2014, putting him at a decent .265/.313/.401 line with 12 homers over 531 PA offensively for a so-so 94 wRC+, while contributing 1.8 fielding runs above average defensively. Understandably, he’s not being looked at as a game-changer on either side of the equation in his first year, but he won’t be a total hole in the Detroit lineup either.
This, however, doesn’t solve the fact that the Tigers are down one big middle-of-the-order bat, and that’s not something that they can reasonably look for the youngster to provide … as least not in 2014.
If there was ever a case to be made for the team to find themselves a backup plan, this would probably be it. Victor Martinez is a good switch-hitter, but the DH isn’t the same power threat that Fielder was even in a down year, not to mention that he provided it as a lefty. While it doesn’t seem like the team would necessarily be able to do anything about the latter given the existing options in FA, perhaps a short-term acquisition wouldn’t hurt either.
That should immediately rule out players like Juan Uribe, who wouldn’t sign to play a backup role to begin with, and would be too costly even if he did (the Tigers do have to extend Miggy an Max Scherzer at some point). A trade for an established third baseman is viable, but it would more than likely mean sending Castellanos out of town, not to mention the money issue that’d come with it as well.
But what about someone like Mark Reynolds? He’s not exactly a good fielder, but can play third base in a pinch. Moreover, despite his limited offensive skill set, he does provide certainty in power. And after several replacement-level seasons, it’s possible that he wouldn’t be overly resistant to moving to a backup role either, especially if it’ll give him a chance at a World Series ring.
Such a move would give the Tigers important depth at the hot corner, and even if they trust that Castellanos is the future there, it doesn’t hurt to have a cushion for 2014, yes?