Nearly one year ago, the Red Sox signed Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal. He was a clear contender to be the right fielder of the future, a 26-year-old who would shake off the rust in the minors in 2015 while Shane Victorino finished up his final year with Boston, or would take over mid-season if Victorino once again succumbed to the injuries that plagued him in 2014.
Instead, Castillo took a little longer than expected to clear off the cobwebs to begin this season, in part thanks to a few minor injuries that interrupted him. The Red Sox also sent him down quickly when he struggled upon joining the big-league team, but that was understandable: Boston was still on the periphery of contention in late-June when Castillo was sent back to Triple-A, so while it was a disappointing transaction, it was one that made sense.
Now, though, the Red Sox are out of it, Victorino has been dealt, and yet, Castillo isn't starting every game possible. It's not because Castillo is still struggling: in fact, he's batting .385/.429/.577 with a homer and two doubles in the nine games he's played since his return. No, Castillo is missing out on precious, question-answering playing time because the Sox want to respect the veterans on their roster.
Castillo has not been seen in right like this nearly often enough. (Photo credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
You can see where they are coming from without squinting too much: treating Mike Napoli and Alejandro De Aza well likely has its merits to a degree, given both are free agents after the season and both will leave the team feeling like they were treated professionally in their time in Boston. You can also argue that the whole striking a balance thing that manager John Farrell has discussed is a front, and the Sox just want to showcase De Aza and Napoli as much as they can while still getting Castillo into the lineup in order to successfully deal both of them in waiver trades this month.
Neither of these things seems as important as simply playing Castillo, though: De Aza is a 31-year-old outfielder who has had 46 good games in Boston and nearly 600 awful-to-average games everywhere else he's played. The Sox picked him up off of waivers from a team who had to trade for outfield help at the deadline, and only had to give up a maybe future reliever from Double-A to do it. They do not owe him for a lifetime of service, and they will not be handsomely rewarded for giving him extra August at-bats once they can ship him elsewhere.
Napoli, at least, was part of a World Series team and signed two contracts with the Red Sox. While 2015 has been tough, he's been a fan favorite in the past, and there is no clear alternative to replacing him at first base: the only way he's truly interfering with Castillo is under the assumption that Hanley Ramirez's constant presence in the outfield means Castillo can't always be there.
To believe that, you have to also believe that the Sox plan on using Ramirez at first base once Napoli is moved, or that Sandoval and his currently limp bat are headed there with Ramirez moving to return to the infield and take over third, and there is no indication either of those things are a real-life plan moving forward. The Sox have talked about maybe moving some bodies around, but they've also kept giving Joe Kelly chances as a starter, so let's throw that in the "believe it when we see it" pile.
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This mostly comes down to De Aza standing in Castillo's way. Playing De Aza over Castillo against a righty would make sense if the Red Sox were in the midst of a playoff race and trying to balance the present and the future, but they are not. Let Castillo get those at-bats against a right-hander -- De Aza doesn't need them, and the Red Sox don't need De Aza to get them.
Let Castillo start these games, rather than pulling him early or inserting him in late, as they have done in four of the nine games he's played in since his return to Boston. Let him prove the hole left in right field by Shane Victorino has already been filled, especially because if he shows it is still, in fact, a hole, Boston is going to need to do something about it this offseason.
A team is still going to claim De Aza even if he isn't playing regularly before he's available. And if they don't claim De Aza, then what's the problem? Is De Aza going to be a clubhouse problem if he isn't played? Is that going to have some kind of bearing on the future of this team? Or is the only thing that actually matters here whether or not Rusney Castillo, who is under contract through at least 2019 and is owed at least another $43 million from 2016 onward, is in the lineup?
De Aza's the veteran and the elder, sure, but he's played in one more game for Boston in his career than Rusney, and he's pulling in less than half as much money this season. Don't play this "contributor" card anymore. Stop wasting Castillo's time, because you're also wasting your own, and enough of 2015 has already been wasted.