When the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, many fans were excited. After all, teams typically reserve contracts of such length and value to cornerstone players who will be key building blocks moving forward.
However, almost a year into his exorbitant deal, Castillo has played just 36 big league games, and, at present, is suiting up in Pawtucket, as one of the most expensive Triple-A players of all-time. Accordingly, the Red Sox find themselves in a messy situation with Rusney, who, so far, looks to have been totally overpriced.
I was immediately suspicious when Ben Cherington signed the Cuban outfielder last year. At 26, Castillo hadn’t played baseball for almost two years, so the Red Sox’ decision to make such an enormous commitment was surprising. Typically, Boston has shied away from large contracts since Theo Epstein left town, even to the point of losing homegrown stars such as Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. In this regard, it was quite disconcerting to see the team invest heavily in a totally unproven product, rather than experienced big leaguers with a strong track record.
However, once Rusney Castillo became a Red Sock, I was intrigued to see him play. To earn a seven year contract, he must be a special talent, I assumed. And, to a certain extent, that was correct. Castillo has some impressive raw tools, with the ability to hit for power and change the game with above-average speed. Yet, the more I’ve watched him play this season, the more obvious it has become that, beneath the promising tools, Rusney lacks a true feel for the game; a true understanding of what is required to excel at the Major League level. In scouting parlance, his baseball instincts leave a lot to be desired.
For instance, Castillo regularly takes unorthodox and inefficient routes to fly balls in the outfield, while, at the plate, he frequently looks oblivious as to how pitchers are trying to get him out. Earlier in the season, David Ortiz even had to lecture Castillo about giving sliding instructions to baserunners while on deck. Essentially, Rusney plays a very raw brand of baseball, more akin to the reckless sandlot version played with friends than the polished craft of the big leagues, where every minutiae is scrutinized and debated.
Now, I don’t mean to bash the guy, because he clearly possesses more athletic talent than the mortal masses could ever dream of. Just by journeying from Cuba to the U.S., he’s shown ample courage and maturity. But, quite frankly, his production so far simply hasn’t been worth $11 million per year. That’s an irrefutable fact. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the fault of Rusney Castillo, but, more seriously, it does raise questions about ownership’s overall plan, and Ben Cherington’s ability to carry it out.
Surely criticism must arise when such a costly player is performing so inadequately as to be routinely shipped between Boston and Pawtucket. Surely there must be some accountability from the executives and coaches involved. Surely there must be an answer to the same recurrent question: does anybody here know what they’re doing anymore?
Moving forward, Rusney Castillo may become a competent big league star. In which case, great, that helps the Red Sox immensely. But, right here and right now, ten games under .500 in another awful season, Boston cannot have a $72 million player, fast approaching the age of 28, lurking down in Pawtucket. It just cannot happen. Either Castillo must improve considerably and begin producing, or the Sox must admit their mistake and cut him loose from the present state of calamity and confusion.