The Boston Red Sox continued their radical new approach to rebuilding on Saturday, announcing the signing of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year Major League Baseball contract—reportedly worth $72.5 million—that begins in 2014.
Castillo rumors have swirled around Twitter and all parts of the Internet for weeks now. The Sox apparently outbid the Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies— among other teams—for Castillo's services, adding another talented outfielder who should improve Boston's major league team in short order.
The signing will have a significant effect on Boston's lineup in 2015 and beyond, leaving the Red Sox with some interesting roster decisions to make this offseason. But the addition of Castillo is yet another sign that the Red Sox aren't following the traditional path to rebuilding we've seen teams like the Cubs, Astros and Marlins use in recent years.
Instead of stockpiling prospects and completely tearing down their roster, Ben Cherington saw a weakness—a lack of power and overall productivity from the lineup—and has addressed it in short order. That means the Sox could be competitive again as soon as next season.
In the past month, Boston has added Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig to its offense, building the foundation for what should once again be a fearsome lineup in 2015. A year ago, the Red Sox had the best offense in baseball. This year, they rank 27th. Next season, the turnaround could be just as dramatic, but in a positive way.
Yes, the Sox will need to do substantial work on their starting rotation this offseason, and the bullpen could use some bolstering as well. Fortunately, with an average annual value of just $10.36 million, according to WEEI.com's Alex Speier, Castillo's contract shouldn't prevent the Sox from being major players in free agency.
And aside from potentially looking into some help at third base, the Sox won't need to burn money on any hitters. With the addition of Castillo, the lineup for next year looks fairly set.
Most expect the 27-year-old Cuban to play center field for Boston next year, and his skill set is one that suggests he could lead off as well. Castillo hit .319/.383/.516 with 51 homers and 76 steals in five seasons in Cuba's Serie Nacional, but projects to hit for more power in the majors after adding 20 pounds of muscle to his now-chiseled frame.
Castillo should be flanked by Cespedes in right field and some combination of Allen Craig and Daniel Nava in left field, providing Boston with plenty of offense from the outfield. Shane Victorino should factor into the picture as well, but it would be unwise to count on him for any sort of meaningful contribution as he'll be coming off a lost year and back surgery.
The Red Sox, of course, already had at least two younger options for center field in Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. There's an excellent chance that at least one of these players—more likely Betts—could be dealt this winter for some pitching help.
But even if the Red Sox do keep all seven of their outfield options, there's no long-term logjam, despite how it may seem. Cespedes, Victorino and Mike Napoli are all free agents after the 2015 season, meaning there will be a lot more space for playing time in 2016.
Odds are the Sox will try to extend Cespedes, but as we saw with Lester, that in and of itself isn't a guarantee that a deal will be completed.
The Sox must also consider that, despite his phenomenal performance this season, David Ortiz is mortal. By the time 2016 rolls around, Boston could very well be in need of a new DH for the first time in more than a decade.
Projecting the lineup that far down the road is a fool's errand, but it's a positive that the Sox will have the likes of Castillo, Betts, Bradley, Nava and Craig all still under control in 2016 if none of them are dealt. Such depth also protects them from initial struggles from Castillo, as he very well could take longer to assimilate to MLB pitching than did fellow Cubans such as Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.
The Red Sox still face a long road if they want to return to relevancy in 2015. After all, the team is just 56-72, and while they have some promising pieces in place, they still need a revamped pitching staff and improved performance from many of their younger players.
But there's genuine reason for optimism when it comes to 2015 and beyond, and Castillo is a big part of the reason why. If the Sox are truly able to go from worst to first to worst to first once again, Cherington very well may have created the new blueprint for teams who look to reload rather than rebuild.