A recent article by The Athletic (subscription required) took an in-depth look at some of the worst contracts currently in Major League Baseball. In their analysis, in addition to ranking the top 10 current worst contracts, they included a list of honorable mentions. Unfortunately, a member of the Philadelphia Phillies found his way on the list. That player turns out to be All-Star outfielder Nick Castellanos.
So, is The Athletic's Cody Stavenhagen correct in calling Castellanos’ five-year, $100 million contract a bust already just two years into the deal? Let’s take a closer look at his performance to date.
In his first year with the Phillies after signing the contract, it sure indeed looked like a wrong move for the ballclub as Castellanos was on pace to put up some of his worst numbers since his first two seasons in the league. In 136 games, he batted .263 with a dismal .694 OPS, along with only 56 runs scored, 13 home runs, and 62 RBI.
All of this was accomplished while hitting in the heart of the Phillies’ order, including a long run in the cleanup spot in the first three months of the 2022 season. This was coming off a career year in 2021 in which he posted a personal best .309 batting average, 34 home runs, and 100 RBI in 138 games played with the Cincinnati Reds, thus earning him the lucrative contract from the Phillies.
Castellanos redeemed himself with a strong 2023
However, Castellanos rebounded with a strong 2023 season as he returned to his power and run-producing ways. During the regular season, he compiled a .272 average with a .788 OPS, 79 runs scored, 29 home runs, a career-high 106 RBI, and even 11 stolen bases to boot. In doing so, he became an All-Star for the second time in his career and helped lead the Phillies to their second consecutive postseason berth.
Just to show how Castellanos fared in comparison to other prominent MLB players with multi-year contracts and similar AAV salaries, here is their overall production in 2023:
The level of Castellanos’ production and performance in 2023 was on par with or even better than some of his counterparts, showing that he has been providing good value to the Phillies.
However, there have also been some apparent flaws in his game that could potentially lead to a larger regression in the coming years if they get significantly worse.
First of all, Castellanos’ strikeout rate has been gradually increasing over the past few years, going from 20.7 percent in 2021 up to 27.6 percent in 2023. In addition, his play in the outfield leaves quite a bit to be desired as he has totaled -17 DRS in two seasons with the ballclub. Only his strong arm has kept him serviceable in the field, throwing out 18 baserunners in the same time interval.
Finally, Castellanos is a very streaky player, and he could get hot or cold at the best of times and worst of times. That was clearly on full display during the Phillies’ 2023 playoff run as he went from playoff hero in the NLDS to playoff zero in the NLCS in a matter of just a few days.
It's too early to know if Castellanos' contract is one of the worst in baseball
We have certainly seen both the positives and negatives of Castellanos’ abilities in his first two years with the Phillies. To already conclude that his contract is one of the worst in baseball is a bit premature, since we're unsure what version of Castellanos will show up in the final three years of his deal.
If he maintains his All-Star production numbers similar to 2023 in the upcoming three seasons, his contract could be one of the better-valued ones in the majors. But if his flaws amplify and accelerate his regression in the coming years, or he ends up resembling his form from 2022, then we can officially say at that time that it is one of the worst contracts in the league.
For the sake of the Phillies and their current contending window, let’s really hope that the All-Star version of Castellanos is the one that is here to stay.