Rusney Castillo could be not just the present in left field for the Red Sox, but also the future. They signed him to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal in late 2014 because the team believed he could be a well-rounded contributor that they could rely on for years to come. Instead, Castillo has been disappointing, failing to stay healthy while also failing to handle major-league velocity or put the ball in the air with consistency.
There's still plenty of reason to hope, of course: adjustments can be made, and it's unclear if he's just been unlucky so far with his health given the kind of condition he keeps himself in. However, the Sox might have an opportunity to move Castillo now, as the Indians are reportedly inquiring on one of Boston's three starting outfielders. There's no chance it's Mookie Betts that would move -- and only a slightly higher chance that the Indians even bothered to ask for him -- and Jackie Bradley Jr. seems unlikely given Dave Dombrowski's noted adoration of his defense. Before Dombrowski even took over the Red Sox, he attempted to pry Bradley from them.
So, that leaves Castillo as not only the most likely to be dealt by Boston, but also the one the Indians probably asked for knowing he would be not only available, but also at a relative discount -- given his performance since signing in August of 2014, the Sox would probably have to eat some of his remaining $56.5 million to make it work. The question is if the Sox should be interested in moving Castillo.
Even if he fails to hit, he's going to be a significant defensive presence in left field. That's no small thing when you consider what the trio of Castillo, Bradley, and Betts could do to benefit the pitching staff just by keeping balls from dropping in. If he manages to hit on top of that, even at a league-average rate? He'll be a valuable player.
At the same time, the Sox are going to lose David Murphy -- and maybe even by the end of this weekend, as his opt-out date is March 27 -- if they don't make some room on the roster. Murphy is only signed to a one-year deal for $2.1 million should he make the team, but in conjunction with bench outfielder Chris Young, Boston could platoon themselves a pretty good left field. Murphy is a career .278/.341/.454 hitter against right-handed pitching, while Young is at .263/.362/.474 against southpaws. Given Murphy is 34 and Young is 32, they might not reach quite those heights in 2016, but Murphy would be transitioning back to a hitter's park after spending the last two years in pitcher-friendly Progressive Field and Angel Stadium.
The Sox would still have Young or Murphy on the bench each game, as well as Brock Holt as the fifth outfielder on the roster. So, their big-league depth wouldn't be compromised, and they might be guaranteeing themselves a higher floor in exchange for the loss of some ceiling in 2016. That's not a bad trade-off for a team who hopes to be winning right now.
What about in the future, though? Well, that might be a situation that doesn't involve either of Castillo or Murphy regardless. Two of the Red Sox best prospects are Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada. Benintendi is an outfielder already -- a center fielder, even -- and Moncada could very well end up in the outfield. There might not be a spot at third for him in the future if Travis Shaw continues to hit and usurps Pablo Sandoval's job, and second base is and will remain Dustin Pedroia's, so the outfield is a distinct possibility for Boston's best prospect. And hey, if Sandoval does rebound and play well, then there's even less reason to transition Moncada to the hot corner. He'll need to go somewhere, though.
While Benintendi and Moncada are currently in the minors, Moncada could begin 2016 at Double-A, just two steps from the majors: no one will be surprised if he's big-league ready by or during 2017. Benintendi just got to the pros, as he was drafted seventh-overall in the 2015 draft, but he's 21 years old, was the SEC College Player of the Year, and destroyed both short-season ball and Low-A. He'll begin 2016 at High-A, and might not be there very long if he continues to mash. Like with Moncada, his ETA could very well be 2017.
That's if things go perfectly for both, of course -- late-2017 could be more realistic for either. Young is signed to a two-year deal, though, and Murphy isn't exactly impossible to retain if it comes to it, so there's no real reason to panic over who plays in left field a year from now unless both of those players are somehow awful this summer. So, the Sox are in a position to take a risk, trade Castillo, go with the platoon, and hope one of their top kids plays their way into Boston by next spring or, at least, by the summer that follows it.
This all depends on what it is the Sox could get for Castillo, though. His stock is down, but helping to pay off some of his contract could help with that -- the Indians aren't a financial powerhouse, so if they can get an outfielder who might end up being a bargain thanks to someone else sharing the bill, they would be interested. They might already be interested, given what we've deduced from the trade rumor.
They also have their own prospects, and while the Red Sox wouldn't be able to get Bradley Zimmer, Brady Aiken, or Clint Frazier for Castillo and cash, Cleveland does have some kids who project to be back-end starters or league-average players at their position, too. Most of them are a few years off, too, so they aren't prospects the Indians are relying on heavily to keep them and their budget afloat in the near future.
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Maybe there is a deal to be made there -- if the Red Sox wanted any of the Indians' pitching on the major-league side, then someone with more promise than Castillo would need to be involved. And the Sox aren't desperate enough for pitching for that to go down.
Would that be worth it? It might be, as Castillo's money is already spent and if he continues to falter, his stock is only going to drop. Murphy and Young would make for a productive left field platoon, and if the Sox wanted to get some additional depth in the system in case of injury, they could always go out and sign someone like David DeJesus or Alex Rios, if either of them prefers Triple-A life to their couch. Boston would get a little more wiggle room around the luxury tax for the next few years, as they would only be paying part of Castillo's salary, and there would be a clear path for whichever of Benintendi or Moncada looks ready for the majors first.
Is it a move the Sox need to make? Certainly not, but there are benefits. It's also a risk, though, as the development of either of Benintendi or Moncada could slow down just enough to mess with the timing, and both Murphy and Young are just old enough to instill a little bit of worry into relying on them. So, there is no real wrong answer here: trading Castillo would be something of a risk, but at least it would be a calculated one, and the Sox very well could be better off by moving him now while there is a chance to do so.