Don't rule out Nicholas Castellanos returning to the Cubs in 2020 just yet. According to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the Cubs are "still pursuing" the 27-year-old free agent outfielder.
Morosi's report is unsurprising, as Castellanos went on an offensive tear after Cubs acquired him from the Tigers at the trade deadline. In 51 games, he posted a .321/.356/.646 slash line, smacking 16 home runs and 21 doubles, adding another potent bat to the Cubs' lineup.
Castellanos endeared himself to Cubs fans with his performance, an admiration shared by Theo Epstein. At his end-of-season press conference, the Cubs president spoke highly of Castellanos and acknowledged he'd "love" for the outfielder to return next season.
Epstein also pointed out how for the Cubs, bringing back Castellanos isn't a simple decision. Castellanos will have a fair share of suitors on the open market, and the Cubs may not be able to out-bid any team, considering their payroll situation.
"Love the way he plays the game and would love to have him back," Epstein said in September. "It's obviously a more complicated issue than just we do love to have the guy back. He's worked long and hard to get to free agency. He had an unbelievable year - especially his time with the Cubs - and he deserves the right to take that into the free-agent market. He knows that we'd love to have him back, but he also knows that it's not as simple as that."
There's also the issue of how Castellanos fits with the Cubs defensively. Acquiring him meant moving right fielder Jason Heyward - a five-time Gold Glove Award winner - to center field, with Kyle Schwarber occupying left. Heyward is a better defender in right, but the Cubs were willing to sacrifice some defense for offense down the stretch and for a potential postseason run.
That postseason run never came to fruition, but Castellanos was everything the Cubs hoped he'd be and more. He held his own defensively, no easy task at Wrigley Field due to the tight foul lines, glaring sun in right field and the wind factor. Castellanos should improve as he gains more outfield experience; 2019 was only his second full season playing out there.
Castellanos was a stellar addition to the 2019 Cubs. It's easy to see why they're looking to extend that relationship into next season and beyond.
"Man, I love everything about Nick Castellanos," Epstein said. "What a job he did coming in. I don't think you can ask more of an in-season trade acquisition than what he did. The production, the consistency, the dynamic at-bats that he had and then the way he went about it - just with a lot of passion, a lot of professionalism, a lot of hard work, a team-oriented approach. Really became invested in the Cubs and his teammates in a short period of time."
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Cubs still pursuing free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago