Rusney Castillo Sweepstakes Heating Up: Should Red Sox Sign Cuban OF?

Rusney CastilloCuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is exactly the type of investment the Boston Red Sox should consider.

Castillo, a 27-year-old free agent, is expected to make a decision soon regarding his future in Major League Baseball. Multiple reports have indicated that the Red Sox plan to aggressively pursue Castillo, and general manager Ben Cherington said Tuesday that the club has talked with the Cuban defector.

The reports on Castillo have been flattering. He’s short and stocky — 5-foot-9, 205 pounds — but has a ton of speed. He stole 76 bases in 360 games in Cuba, and according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, Castillo made it down the line from the right side in 4.1 seconds, which equates to 70 speed on scouts’ 20-80 scale. Badler notes that such home-to-first times can be erratic, but he suggests Castillo has “premium wheels.” It’s one of the reasons Castillo projects as a center fielder in the majors.

Castillo’s overall offensive potential is much more difficult to pinpoint, largely because the competition he faced in Cuba — where most pitchers barely crack 90 mph — is a shell of what he’ll go up against in America. Badler describes Castillo as having plenty of bat speed, but a long swing could cause problems if necessary adjustments aren’t made. Castillo is viewed as more of a line drive hitter, though his recent showcase in Miami — reportedly attended by 28 teams, including the Red Sox — offered an encouraging glimpse of his power.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman heard Castillo described as “Brett Gardner with power.” Badler likened him to Rajai Davis at age 27 — a speedster who can play center field with an aggressive hitting approach, a solid bat and occasional power. Let’s assume Castillo falls somewhere in the middle. Perhaps a .280 average, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases comprise a reasonable ceiling.

Obviously, there’s risk involved in signing an unknown commodity like Castillo. But the risk is purely monetary. The Red Sox — or any other team, for that matter — don’t need to surrender draft picks or prospects to obtain Castillo’s services. Instead, they must simply outbid the competition, which is appealing for a team with the financial resources yet a steadfast desire to refrain from relinquishing assets when possible.

It’s the same risk assumed by the Los Angeles Dodgers when they signed Yasiel Puig, the Oakland Athletics when they signed Yoenis Cespedes and the Chicago White Sox when they signed Jose Abreu. All of those worked out OK. History shouldn’t be the overriding factor in determining Boston’s level of aggressiveness for Castillo, but the recent track record of Cuban defectors thriving in the United States should mitigate some concerns over whether making a successful transition is possible.

At this point, it’s unclear how much Castillo will command. It’s possible Puig’s seven-year, $42 million contract could be used as a baseline, though Sahadev Sharma of Baseball Prospectus suggests the bidding could reach or exceed $55 million. Either way, the average annual value could fall below a comparable — albeit proven — major league commodity because of the inherent risk that comes with tapping into the international market. And the ability to maintain assets — draft picks, prospects, etc. — is too appealing to pass up.

The Red Sox have had discussions with Castillo. It’s time for those to pick up.

Photo via Twitter/@LifeandTimes

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