Lakeland, Fla. – Nick Castellanos sat down in a leather chair in front of his locker Sunday morning, cup of coffee in hand, leaned back and, in one loaded sentence, summed up his primary takeaway from a disheartening and enlightening offseason.
“Baseball is a kid’s game, man,” he said. “Business is an adult’s game.”
Castellanos, entering his age-27 season and coming off the most productive offensive season of his career, spent the offseason on the trade block. Try as they might, the Tigers have been unable to find a serious trade partner. Which left Castellanos, in effect, twisting in the wind.
Castellanos, through his agent David Meter, made it known that if it’s the Tigers’ plan to move him, he’d rather it be done before training camp, so he could have time to settle his family and himself in a new location.
Nothing happened. Castellanos signed a one-year deal with the Tigers for $9.95 million and he reported camp on time Sunday. Nothing has changed, yet everything feels different.
“It’s the nature of the business,” he shrugged, when asked if he was frustrated by the process. “Today more than ever, baseball is a business. I understand that. All I can do is make the most of it, play for as long as I can and play to win. That’s it.”
Asked if he was happy he was still with the Tigers, he said, “Wherever I play baseball, I am playing to win.”
Asked if, knowing he could be moved during the season, he could still be an effective leader for this team, he said, “I can’t control that. I’m just sitting in this chair doing the best I can trying to answer your questions.
“However the cards fall, they fall.”
Asked if he was coming in with a chip on his shoulder, he said, “Yeah, but not because of all that stuff. I don’t care too much about what happens. I just want to be the best me possible and whatever uniform I am wearing, that’s what I am going to do.”
His attitude seemed almost like a mercenary’s – I am going to do all I can to be the best player I can be so I can play this game for as long as possible. And yet, he said he would be open to negotiating a long-term deal with the Tigers.
“Of course I would,” he said.
He didn’t backtrack on the comments his agent made, but he added, “It doesn’t mean that I don’t love Detroit. It doesn’t mean I don’t love the Tigers. That has nothing to do with that comment.”
It was his answer to another question – a question about how his family, especially those who live in Michigan and are life-long Tigers fans feel about him being traded – that put the agent’s comment and Castellanos’ desires into full perspective.
“They love the Tigers, but they love me more,” he said. “They want me to be happy and they want what’s best for my family. They understand how important stability is for a child, for a relationship, for mental health in general.
“They want me to be stable and happy and playing baseball the same way I did when I was a little kid.”
The straw that broke his back this offseason, the thing that made it real, made him throw up his hands in surrender, was right fielder Nick Markakis signing a one-year deal worth $4 million.
“That’s when I kind of just went, wow, it is what it is, man,” he said. “I can’t control this.”
Markakis is 35 and coming off a year where he played in all 162 games, led the National League in hits, won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and helped the Braves get to the postseason.
“Obviously, he’s a role model in the clubhouse, never been in trouble, big part of a winning team and he’s got 2,400 (2,237) career hits,” Castellanos said. “He’s chasing 3,000 hits, chasing baseball history, right? And no team is thinking, I want that guy to hit 3,000 hits in my uniform?
“No, it’s he’s 35 so he’s not going to be good next year. That’s the whole thing. That’s extremely frustrating.”
Castellanos looked lean and healthy, like he always does early in camp. But he changed his offseason regimen significantly. He actually trained himself. He had Tigers strength coach Chris Walter transform his garage into a gym.
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I came up with the idea with Chris, and Chris helped my idea come to life. It’s got all the essentials. It’s a nice little home gym.”
He said he worked his schedule around his family obligations, namely around his son Liam’s schedule.
“It was tough, but it was fun,” he said. “I feel good.”
He is a year away from free agency and he, like every player, is befuddled to see some of the top free agents still unsigned – namely Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Craig Kimbrel.
“How would you say the NBA is doing if LeBron James and Steph Curry were on the free-agent market and basketball players were reporting for camp and they didn’t have a job?” he said. “That’d be very bad, right?
“But like I said, unfortunately, I’m not in charge of all that stuff. I just keep my head down and be the best me possible so I can play baseball for as long as I can.”
Castellanos caught up with teammates, spent some time talking to manager Ron Gardenhire and outfield coach Dave Clark, and then took some batting practice and shagged fly ball on the one of the back fields at TigerTown.
Monday is the first full-squad workout.
"Really, I wasn't worried about hearing anything from him in particular," Gardenhire said of their conversation. "I just said, 'Now we're playing baseball. Everything else is out. You can't worry about anything. So lets go out there and have some fun, get yourself ready to have another great year."
"He said, 'One hundred percent. That's exactly what I'm going to do -- just play baseball,'" Gardenhire said. "All I care about here is we don't worry about all the other stuff. The only thing we can control is what goes on in this room and on the field.
"He's got a great attitude and he's excited to be here."