BOSTON (CBS) — The news moved rather quickly in a 24-hour period. First, the Red Sox were among four or five teams believed to be “in” on Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo. By Thursday night, it was just the Sox and the Tigers, and before lunchtime on Friday, Castillo had agreed to a long-term, big-money deal: Seven years, $72.5 million.
With so little time to process the news, it’s been tough to get a firm grasp on what the reaction in Boston should be.
On the one hand, if you temporarily leave the specifics of Castillo out of the equation, it is good on the surface that the Red Sox are A) spending money and B) finding creative ways to do it. With an underwhelming crop of outfielders hitting free agency this upcoming offseason, the Red Sox managed to lock up a player on the right side of 30 for $10.4 million per year. Compared to what the veteran free agents will get in the winter, the Castillo contract is sure to look good comparatively.
Now, compared to his fellow Cubans who have signed in recent years, it doesn’t look excellent. By just about all scouts’ accounts, Castillo is not expected to have the power of Jose Abreu or the electrifying impact of Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes. Though he did add about 20 pounds of muscle, his biggest strength is still expected to be his speed, not necessarily his power.
Still, he’s proven to be a capable hitter. His stats at the 2011 World Cup — .512 batting average, two home runs, two triple, four doubles, two strikeouts in 41 at-bats over 10 games — stand out. He batted .319 with an .899 OPS in his five years in the Cuban league. He hit 22 homers in 107 games in 2010-11 and 21 homers in 113 games the following year. On the base paths, he’s successfully stolen 74 of 97 of his attempts over his last three seasons. And according to scouts, his long swing can likely be fixed to turn him into a viable big league hitter.
So while there’s reason for Red Sox fans to be excited, there should not be downright jubilation. The Red Sox aren’t getting the next Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig. But they’re also not getting the next Daisuke Matsuzaka. (At least, they’re probably not getting the next Daisuke Matsuzaka.)
Unlike with that investment of more than $100 million, the Red Sox this time around are banking on a player whose skills should be able to translate to the big leagues much easier and much faster. The success of the aforementioned Cuban position players likely helped reinforce those beliefs.
Admittedly, it will be hard to look at Castillo without comparing him to Abreu, Cespedes and Puig, and that’s unfair. Instead, he should be compared to all MLB outfielders. Matt Kemp is making $160 million over eight years to post an .821 OPS. Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal, and he currently owns a .739 OPS. Josh Hamilton signed a five-year, $125 million contract prior to last season, and he has a .744 OPS since then.
The Red Sox have to hope that Castillo can produce at least as much as those players, but ideally can perform better in the prime of his career. And they know without a doubt that he’ll cost a whole lot less money.
So while visions of a 2015 championship parade shouldn’t be dancing in the minds of Boston baseball fans this evening, the signing is at worst a smart, worthwhile gamble for Ben Cherington and Co. to make. At best, it has the potential to be a steal for the better part of a decade.
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