The season to this point for Boston has been, in a word, disastrous. Interestingly, it has been such with the same core that magically won the World Series. To pin one rationale for the decline would be deluded; from everything to injuries to the loss of Ellsbury to the failures of Clay Buchholz, something has not clicked for a franchise that clicked better than any other last season. As they sat far below .500 and out of contention, the Red Sox, due to greater financial flexibility and ownership, were faced with a decision that bad teams can’t usually face: how did they want to attempt to get better?
The Red Sox not only decided to deal their two best starters on deadline day, they have also now signed Cuban Rusney Castillo, 27, to a 7-year, $72 million deal. The signing of the speedster Castillo for Ben Cherington and company reaffirmed a notion that appeared evident at that July 31 trade deadline: this is going to be a re-tool for 2015 as opposed to a complete rebuild. They didn’t trade Jon Lester or John Lackey for a haul of prospects; rather they acquired defined MLB players. Allen Craig filled an open outfield spot – with the ability to play 1st base when Mike Napoli’s contract ends next season – and Joe Kelly, a potential middle-of-the rotation arm, filled began to fill the barren wasteland of a rotation. Cespedes, however, was the more intriguing name for numerous reasons. First, he was the cleanup hitter for the best offense in baseball and won the home run derby two straight years. But even more compelling is his contract situation, which expires after next year. That they would acquire him over presumably other enticing options sent the message loudly and clearly that they may be throwing one year away, but they will not be wasting two. Which makes the Rusney Castillo signing intriguingly confusing. Blindly compelling. Desperately irresistible. Allow me to explain the positives and negatives of the latest Cuban to enter Major League Baseball:
Peter Gammonds – a Red Sox columnist – quoted a “well-respected scout” in his latest column on Castillo. He wrote: “Body type reminds of a more physical and muscular Andrew McCutchen. Absolutely shredded… Popped the baseball up and it came down over the fence numerous times. Stupid strength at contact point. Ferocious swings with a taste of rigidness. Lacks fluidity and ease of stroke. Counters that with ferocity, strength, bat speed and explosiveness.” How could a Red Sox fan not be intrigued by an athlete on par with – or even better than – the Yasiel Puig mold defies logic. He clearly will become the leadoff hitter next season, and will fill the Ellsbury role to a tee. Castillo is clearly a young asset in the prime of his athletic career, of which very few, if any, ever hit the free agent market. The risk of signing him to this relatively low average yearly salary is wholly overstated. Overpaying for Jacoby Ellsbury at an older age, to more money, would have entailed far more risk that Castillo does at his current contract. At absolute worst, Castillo is a more athletically imposing Emilio Bonifacio, and while that may sound bad, Bonifacio is a valuable commodity on a contending team. Not to mention the upside is tremendous. Though he may not end up at the level of Puig or Abreu, Castillo has the potential to toe that line. He has the rare combination of untapped power, blazing speed, and a physique unlike any other. Nothing is ever wrong with the accumulation of assets; an influx of talent is a good problem to have. This is a shot of energy the slow, deficient Red Sox desperately need and they have needed it since May.
“Potential” is be a buzzword (I don’t mean that in a good way), and there are several major issues with this signing. The first, and most obvious, is the blind faith from the Red Sox that Castillo will actually, you know, pan out as a major league baseball player. You can throw out the names Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu all you might like, but Rusney Castillo is an entire different person. For starters, he will not have nearly the amount of power that those two stars have exhibited in their careers, nor has he played organized baseball in over a year. Which bring me to my next point about his future fit with the Red Sox. Jackie Bradley Jr. has had a destructive year offensively, and he should not be a 2015 day-1 starter regardless, but his otherworldly defensive ability is reason enough to not give up on him entirely. Mookie Betts is a blue-chip prospect that should not be subjected to the flip-flopping positions and roles that the logjam in the outfield may lead to. Betts has equal, if not higher, potential to be productive as Castillo does and he is several years younger. He will have a role next year, undoubtedly. Adding them to an outfield with newly acquired Allen Craig and Yoenis Cespedes signals that a trade might be in the works. Lastly, if any bit of this signing takes any level of interest away from signing Jon Lester in the offseason, it is misguided. Pitching needs to be the top priority and the only priority of the offseason. Between a questionable bat, a potentially rusty player, and the money allocated to an unknown commodity, the risk tagged with Rusney Castillo for the Red Sox weighs down what it may add to a hazy outfield situation.
So, where do you side on Rusney Castillo signing a 7-year, $72 million deal with the Boston Red Sox?