On August 23rd, 2014 the Red Sox signed Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo to a 7 year and $72.5 million contract. It was the largest contract ever given to a Cuban player at that time. The Sox were trying to capitalize on the handful of other Cuban sluggers who had been signed to big-league contracts and have made a major-league impact (Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu). Even at the time however, the circumstances around the signing seemed a bit odd and risky.
When the signing happened, Castillo hadn’t played a game of professional baseball in Cuba since 2012. He attempted to escape from Cuba in 2012 and was then consequently suspended for the entire 2013 season. He was always touted as a speedy center-fielder with potential, but teams really only had a workout in Florida in July of 2014 to see his current ability. Other tape was from 2 years prior or earlier, which makes it difficult to scout a player. Maybe it is just me looking back in hindsight, but investing $72.5 million in a prospect who has not played organized baseball in years was an extreme risk.
At the time, the Red Sox didn’t have a steady outfield presence which makes the Castillo signing more logical. Jackie Bradley Jr. was a defensive monster, but terrible at the plate and Mookie Betts was learning the outfield after making the switch from the infield the year prior. It was unclear what their future would be in the outfield and unclear who would even be playing in 2015. The Sox figured Castillo could be a cornerstone guy for years to come.
As Betts and Bradley Jr. improved and became anchors in the outfield, Castillo was very much an afterthought. He played in 80 games in 2015, showing some promise in August when his average ballooned to around .300, but ultimately finished the season with a .253 average and 5 HRs. His defense left much to be desired as well, committing 5 errors in 2015. He did have 6 outfield assists, but coupled with his other numbers, he was unimpressive to say the least.
This season, Castillo started in Pawtucket with the hopes he could get his swing back and perhaps spend time manning left field at Fenway. Unfortunately for Castillo and the Red Sox, in 161 plate appearances he hit .245 with 1 HR and just 13 RBIs to go along with 23 Ks. He was called up to the big-leagues for one game in April and again in June for depth, but hadn’t seen much playing time (not that it is deserved).
On Sunday, the Red Sox placed Castillo on outright waivers, which was a final admission that the signing was a mistake. Castillo could end up back with the Red Sox organization, especially considering no one will pick him off of waivers with that contract, but the dream of him being an impact player at the major-league level is in the rearview mirror. Now, at best, he is a minor-league depth piece and perhaps a throw-in/salary dump in a future trade.