Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo isn’t the same sort of player as fellow countrymen Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, according to scouting reports such as those compiled by Baseball America‘s Ben Badler.
Yet the Red Sox are hoping the 27-year-old can make the same sort of impact in the major leagues and do so quickly. Boston is making a serious investment in Castillo’s ability to contribute soon. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez initially reported that the team was prepared to offer a six-year, $72 million contract. Alex Speier of Boston’s WEEI.com followed that up with a report that the package is a seven-year deal worth $72.5 million.
In his report, Speier said that Castillo’s contract will take effect this year. So perhaps he’ll be paid $500,000 for the remainder of this season, with the outfielder getting that $72 million over the following six years.
Regardless, it’s a shocking — perhaps outlandish — deal offered to a player who hasn’t appeared in an organized baseball game for nearly a year and a half. The contract seems especially baffling when compared to the six-year, $68 million deal Abreu received from the White Sox last winter, previously the largest package offered to an amateur player.
In 2012, Yasiel Puig signed with the Dodgers for seven years and $42 million. Earlier that year, the A’s inked Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal before the season, a contract that seems like an absolute bargain now.
But if Castillo isn’t viewed as good of a player — especially from a power standpoint — as Abreu and Cespedes, are the Red Sox insane to have give him more money? At first glance, it looks like a massive overpay by Boston, but perhaps that was necessary to beat out the Tigers — the other team considered a front-runner for Castillo — in a bidding war.
Consider that the scouts Badler spoke with initially compared Castillo to Rajai Davis. While Davis can steal a lot of bases and provide good outfield defense with his speed, he’s hardly a $12-million-per-year player. In fact, Detroit signed Davis to a two-year, $10 million deal this past offseason.
To be fair, however, Castillo added 20 pounds of muscle by the time he worked out for MLB teams in early August, which should allow him to hit for more power. (The Red Sox better hope Castillo can hit right-handed pitching better than Davis too.)
Even if he’s not the slugger that Abreu and Cespedes are, if he’s an elite defensive center fielder, that skill is at a premium in MLB. Power is surely valued more, but how many teams have a top-notch glove in center? The Red Sox are paying $13 million per season to Shane Victorino, essentially for that very skill, so does Castillo’s contract really look that crazy in comparison?
(If Castillo — who’s six years younger than Victorino — can provide 15 to 18 home runs a year, it would look even better.)
The prevailing sentiment among those who have scouted Castillo believe his skills are developed enough for him to possibly play in the majors this season, though probably after a couple of weeks to get in game shape down in the minors. Other MLB clubs that had shown heavy interest in Castillo, such as the Tigers and Giants, presumably had ambitions of adding him to their rosters before September, potentially playing him during their respective playoff drives and in the postseason.
It seemed unlikely that Castillo could have worked out his visa issues by Sept. 1, when players have to be on a major league roster in order to be eligible for the playoffs. However, the fact that the possibility was even part of the discussion speaks to how highly regarded Castillo was by the teams pursuing him (which also reportedly included the Phillies and Yankees).
Getting a starting center fielder was obviously important for the Red Sox, who are getting a collective .205 batting average and .565 OPS from the position this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. provided elite defense in center, but was hitting only .216 with a .290 slugging percentage. He’s been replaced by Mookie Betts, who’s a slight upgrade with a .241 average and .645 OPS.
And to get that kind of player, Boston had to outbid a team like the Tigers that desperately needs a center fielder to replace Austin Jackson, who was traded in the David Price deal. (Castillo signing with the Red Sox creates a major offseason problem for Detroit.)
A player with Castillo’s talent isn’t available in this winter’s major league free agent market. And if he was, the Red Sox wouldn’t be getting him for $72 million. Even if Castillo doesn’t make the same immediate impact that Abreu, Cespedes or Puig did with their respective teams, taking all of the market factors into consideration — along with Boston’s roster and organizational needs — makes this a deal worth the initial sticker shock.