The Boston Red Sox landed outfielder Rusney Castillo on Friday with a record-setting contract for an international player from Cuba. The 27-year-old, who defected last December, had been weighing offers from several teams over the past few days and ultimately decided on a reported seven-year, $72.5 million deal from Boston.
The contract will begin immediately for 2014 and run through 2020.
The $72.5 million amount was quite a bit higher than expected, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com wrote earlier in the week that the figure was presumed to be in the $50-$60 million range.
Because he is older than 23 and played for more than three seasons in Cuba's top professional league, Serie Nacional, Castillo was not subject to Major League Baseball's international bonus pool restrictions. In that regard, Castillo falls into the same camp as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, three other Cuban stars who signed big-money pacts in recent years.
And in case you were looking for even more video of Castillo, here is some footage from his official MLB showcase less than a month ago:
Represented by Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports as of June, Castillo checks in at 5'9" and 205 pounds, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America, who speculates that Castillo is good enough to get to the majors this year, if not right away.
Here's a take from Badler's latest report:
Castillo, 27, has gained 20 pounds since leaving Cuba and is now 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, with his best tool his plus-plus speed. The extra size and strength has translated into an increase in power, with some scouts now putting a 60 on his raw power after pegging him with below-average to average raw power while he was in Cuba. In games, at least while he was in Cuba, he’s more of a line-drive hitter with an aggressive hitting approach. He won a Gold Glove in Cuba in 2011-12, with the speed and reactions off the bat to profile in center field in the major leagues, even though his arm strength appears to have backed up since he left Cuba.
There are conflicting opinions about just how good Castillo is. Many see him as an everyday outfielder—perhaps even a center fielder—with comparisons to speedsters past and present, as Jesse Sanchez and Ian Browne of MLB.com write:
Known as an athletic outfielder with surprising power, Castillo has drawn comparisons to Ron Gant, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in terms of style of play, and he is seen as close to big league ready. Whether the 27-year-old would provide that type of impact this season is up for debate. He's an older and a more seasoned talent than most amateur signings, but he also hasn't played competitive baseball in more than a year.
Others, however, suggest he's more of a "tweener" type who is more of a backup who could be a fill-in starter as needed, as Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com writes:
While in Cuba, Castillo didn't put up the numbers of fellow defectors Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, but played well from 2011 to 2013, hitting .315 with a .383 on-base percentage and .512 slugging percentage with Ciego de Avila in Cuba’s top league.
In comparison, Cespedes hit .334 with a .420 OBP and .629 slugging from 2009 to 2011. Abreu hit an astounding .393 with a .537 OBP and .802 slugging percentage from 2011 to 2013.
Considered more of a line drive hitter in Cuba, many scouts projected Castillo as a fourth outfielder, but he's added 20 pounds since defecting.
As B/R's Adam Wells wrote of Castillo back in January:
He's never shown much patience or plate discipline in Cuba, as evidenced by 32 walks in 420 plate appearances in the 2011-12 season. That’s not an unusual trait for players coming from Cuba. They are trying to hit their way on base, so being an on-base percentage guy isn't likely going to be Castillo's strong suit.
On the positive side, Castillo's ability to play center field doesn't put all the pressure on his bat.
What's important to consider regarding Castillo is that questions surrounded what kind of impact Cespedes, Puig and Abreu would have at the time they signed. All three of them, of course, have turned out to be borderline MVP candidates in MLB—and right away too.
"We've had more examples of high-profile Cuban players come out [in recent years], so maybe we're more informed now on what that transition is like," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said, via Mastrodonato. "At the time I think there was an expectation of transition time and there really wasn't any."
Their success is only helping pump up the market for Cuban players looking to come to the United States, like Castillo and fellow outfielder Yasmani Tomas, who defected earlier this summer.
The better Cuban stars do in the majors, the more money they're going to get when they sign. This market is no longer the bargain bin it had been just a year or two ago.
As for how Castillo fits in with the Red Sox, given how much they're ponying up to obtain his services, he's clearly a big part of their future—and perhaps even their present.
Despite a disappointing 2014 season that has them in last place in the American League East after they won the World Series last year, the Red Sox have done a lot in the past month to retool their roster via trades and now the Castillo signing. In other words, Boston should once again be a factor as soon as 2015.
The organization is overloaded with outfielders at the moment, what with the likes of Cespedes (acquired in the Jon Lester trade), Allen Craig (acquired from the John Lackey deal) and Daniel Nava, as well as rookies Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Veteran Shane Victorino, who has missed almost all of the season with injury, remains under contract for next year too.
That certainly could lead to a trade or two, which makes the Red Sox a very intriguing club to keep tabs on between now and the offseason.
One thing's for sure, though: The newest member of the Boston Red Sox, Rusney Castillo, is going to be a key part of the squad going forward.
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