Photo Credit: Boston Globe
2014 was an abhorrent year for the Red Sox from start to finish. They placed last in the division, 25 games out of first, lost Jon Lester (only 21 starts in ’14) due to poor negotiational tactics, had one player surpass the 55 RBI mark, and added a pair of national leaguers, named Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
And in August of 2014, Bank of Cherington made the questionable decision to sign Rusney Castillo, a Cuban born outfielder who wooed and wowed baseball fans and executives alike, in his world baseball classic performance. So naturally Ben made a 72.5 million dollar, seven year commitment to the unknown commodity.
“We’ve gotten a chance to get to know Rusney a lot over the last several weeks,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “And then before that, we had seen him play first in Amsterdam in 2011 and then again in Taiwan in 2012.”
So the $72M price tag rested upon the hinges of a Taiwanese performance four years ago? No wonder Cherington got axed. He signed an amateur free agent to a record deal, not knowing if the player could hold up against ML pitching. They even KNEW when signing him, he struggled with breaking balls; not a 19 year old high schooler, or an age 22 Vanderbilt graduate, but a 26 year old who’s played baseball for many years at multiple levels.
Unsurprisingly, three years later, and Rusney has been labeled a bust for all intents and purposes. Initially, the dividends were in favor of the team- Castillo had a strong debut just weeks after signing, putting up a double, three steals, two home runs and six batted in, only appearing in 10 games. There was, and still is, no question that he’s a gifted athlete. But that doesn’t translate to his outfield patrol grounds, the batters box, or base paths. Quickly, following up his initial introduction to the majors, the nothing-to-play-for 78 win Sox gave him an extended look in 2015, and the results weren’t pretty. An on base percentage of .285, 3:1 K/BB ratio, and a weighted OPS of a paltry 65 showed that Castillo wasn’t even close to handle major league pitching, let alone adjustments that would be made to him, if he’d be able to string together a successful month or two.
Things didn’t improve in 2016. Red Sox Nation was promised a five tool player, and instead were left with old gardening devices in a dilapidated tool shed. He made only eight plate appearances, and at season’s end, the Sox had placed Castillo on waivers, after already paying out $33M to the Cuban “slugger.” He was regarded as perhaps Boston’s biggest bust, duking in out for the title with the likes of Sandoval and Carl Crawford.
But finally, there’s a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, professional athletes deserve the benefit of the doubt, despite their perceived richness. It seems that Rusney’s personal life had taken a toll on him, and the inability to be reunited with his family in Cuba was hampering his ability to succeed. Players are people too, and I can attest that my job performance as a former service member was heavily burdened by ongoings in my own life, that I couldn’t help but “bring to work with me.” So this is where I’d begin to draw the condolence card for Castillo, as we simply cannot say how we’d be affected as millionaire athletes, who are looked upon to brush aside anything not related to the sport, and deliver the performances that we expect from them. If indeed he was hindered by some level of grief, it appears, at least as a 30 year old minor leaguer, that he’s put that behind him. His ’17 AAA stat line:
.314/.350/.507 15 HR 43 RBI 14 SB 52 R
Those number were managed in only 347 at bats; isn’t that more along the lines of what was expected out of the right handed outfielder? Even if it is the minors, it’s a marked improvement from his .269 career average in the Sox farm.
Unless Rusney Castillo has the career arc of a Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, or Logan Morrison, he’s never going to live up to his contractual agreement. But that’s not his fault; it’s 100% on Ben Cherington, Allen Baird and the rest of their front office mates. Sure, we were expecting a Yoenis Cespedes or Bobby Abreu type, but those are the risks you take in when acquiring unknown commodities.
With Chris Young being jettisoned out after a paltry .235, 7 home run season, Boston has an opening for a 4th outfielder. Bryce Brentz may be a popular choice, but with Rusney, you have a solid, quick footed defender who may be ready to deliver. Castillo is scheduled for $11.7M next season; maybe 2018 is the year he finally earns some of his paycheck.