With Rusney Castillo's decision expected sometime in the next 48 hours, it's looking more and more like the Red Sox will be the team to secure the Cuban outfielder's services for 2015 and beyond.
First came word from Gordon Edes that the race was essentially down to the Red Sox and Tigers, crossing the Giants off the list of three teams we'd heard about earlier in the season. Then, in the early hours of Friday morning, Edes provided this inconclusive tidbit:
League source: Boston "optimistic" about signing Rusney Castillo— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) August 22, 2014
Hardly proof of Castillo's name on the dotted line, but a positive sign, especially when combined with Alex Speier's report that multiple teams thought the Red Sox were "close to a deal" for Castillo:
Sources from multiple teams involved in Rusney Castillo sweepstakes believe Red Sox are favorites to sign Cuban OF http://t.co/4pJR5vymZC— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) August 22, 2014
Speier does caution that another source says Castillo was still in talks with multiple teams as late as Thursday night. But increasingly the many various Rusney rumors seem to be centered on the Boston Red Sox. But is this good news, or bad? Just how much might the Red Sox have to fork over to acquire the athletic Cuban described likened to Brett Gardner with power? Our own Joon Lee has some notion:
Agent uninvolved in negotiation expects Rusney Castillo to receive a deal near 6-year, $72.5M. Would be more than Jose Abreu & Yasiel Puig.— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) August 22, 2014
It's a lot of money, but...in reality it's not actually that significant a figure. The Red Sox spent this past offseason struggling to find targets who fit the bill for their team, and ended up with a payroll quite a bit below the CBT threshold they've set as their soft cap in years past. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find impact talent on the market as teams move to lock up their young players early, leaving teams like the Red Sox to either go all-in on insane contracts for top talent, risking crippling themselves in the process, or to pick through the various flawed remainders.
In 2013, that meant picking up players who were very much on the wrong side of 30, coming off bad years, with questions about their ability to play going forward. It resulted in huge seasons from Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, ultimately bringing the Red Sox back to the World Series, but both obviously were hugely flawed players at the time of their signing (as we're seeing now with Victorino on some level).
Don't get me wrong, Rusney Castillo is a question mark. But somehow being a Cuban import who has never played in the majors just doesn't seem quite as scary as everything else. Castillo would be somewhere in the vicinity of 33 at the end of his contract, rather than the beginning. There are also no major injury concerns. Given the success of other Cuban players in recent years--Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jose Dariel Abreu--Castillo's lack of experience just doesn't seem all that scary.
Some scouting reports do caution that Castillo shouldn't be viewed as a star-in-waiting, but what we've got here is a high-value defensive player who can do a little bit of everything on offense. If we want do go to the "Brett Garnder with power" comparison, well, Brett Gardner is doing a pretty good imitation of that himself this season, and has racked up 4 rWAR with a month to go despite some depressed defensive numbers. In years past, the New York outfielder has racked up two other 4-win seasons, as well as a 7.3 win campaign in 2010. While Garnder has played a lot of left field for the Yankees, he's very much a center field type of defender, as is the case with Castillo. And as ever, the value of a player who can play center, shortstop, or catcher with aplomb and still provide even a decent bat seems to not be fully appreciated.
Maybe Rusney Castillo isn't ever worth seven wins. Most players certainly don't reach that point in the course of their careers. Maybe he's not even quite "Brett Gardner with power," coming in more consistently around three wins than four. That's still a fine, fine way to spend $12 million a season. Between the bat and foot speed, and the defensive chops in the outfield, Castillo just doesn't seem like a player the Red Sox will regret spending that kind of money on, and he could prove an absolute bargain in the end.
In a world where free agent prices are increasingly out of control, the Cuban market seems like the last place a team can turn to for impact talent at a reasonable price. All due respect to Mike Napoli, it very much seems like the Red Sox missed the boat this past offseason with Jose Dariel Abreu. They seem determined not to let Castillo be the second to get past them.