Yesterday, Alex Skillin deftly covered the potential Rusney Castillo problem in these very same electronic pages. You should read the piece, but in summary, Castillo hasn’t been very good when he’s been in Boston (and he wasn’t especially good in Pawtucket either), and expecting greatness or even above-average play out of him in 2016 is probably tilting at pre-tilted windmills. On a more macro level, this is potentially problematic when you consider the way the Red Sox have approached their roster in 2016.
The real issue is timing. By the time Castillo proves to be a problem, it’ll be too late to do anything about it. The off-season is the time when you can fix holes in the roster (recall: Price, David), but the season is the time when you create those holes. The time between the two is the potentially bad part. Brutal how that works. The Red Sox outfield situation is a good example, which works well for this article considering that’s kinda what this article is about. The outfield market is bizarrely robust at the moment, featuring above average hitters such as ex-Red Sock Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton, and only recently losing Alex Gordon who re-signed with the Royals for almost the exact dollar figure the Red Sox gave to Rusney Castillo, albeit over a shorter term. Despite that potential production sitting on the market, the Red Sox have shown no interest in any of those players even at a potentially reduced price or number of seasons.
Sounds strange, but there are good reasons for it. The first is Castillo’s contract, which will pay him between $11 million and $12 million per season through at least the 2019 season (if he opts out) and likely a few seasons beyond. The second reason is his baseball-playing ability, which presumably exists. So he’s going to start the season in left field. The Red Sox have spent a lot of money on the 2016 roster however, and with this being David Ortiz’s last season, they are, as the kids say, all in. So what happens if Castillo continues being Castillo, i.e. he performs just slightly above replacement level?
Last year Castillo hit .253/.288/.359. This was not good, but 2015 is not the same offensive environment as 2005, so it wasn’t an utter disaster either. Various WAR metrics had Castillo worth just below one win in 2015, and that was in 289 PAs, so less than half a season’s worth of playing time. If Castillo starts in left all season long and hits and plays defense like he did last season, he’ll likely be worth just under two wins. That isn’t great, but it’s acceptable. A step forward from him would push him towards three wins which would be, considering last year and his time in Pawtucket, pretty fantastic.
The slightest slip up in production on either side of the ball from Castillo and we’re looking at a player subtracting from the team rather than adding to it.
Still, with a slash line like that, we’re not dealing with much of a margin for error. The slightest slip up in production on either side of the ball from Castillo and we’re looking at a player subtracting from the team rather than adding to it. So, suppose that’s what happens. Obviously Cespedes and Upton won’t be waiting on the free-agent market to take his spot. The Red Sox will be looking at one of two options; either move someone already in the organization from the bench or the minors to left field or make a trade for an outfielder.
The Red Sox have signed Chris Young to be their fourth outfielder and if Castillo isn’t cutting it after a few months, the job could fall to him, at least temporarily until the team figures out something better. But Young has major platoon issues, so he’s not an ideal season-long fit. Beyond him, there’s always Brock Holt, who is capable of stepping in and playing left if need be. We know this because left field is a baseball position and Holt can play all of the baseball positions. The problem with that is Holt isn’t a long-term solution in left, and more germane to next season, Holt will be counted on to back up most of the infielders. He can’t play left and and man an infield position at the same time. I’m pretty sure he can’t, anyway.
So there don’t appear to be any season-long solutions on the major league roster. This isn’t surprising but it does mean we have to look further down into the minor leagues, and looking in the Red Sox farm system for outfield help is like looking in a 20-something bachelor’s refrigerator for fresh vegetables. You can look but you’re not going to find anything because it’s just not there.
I suppose that’s not entirely fair. There is still Bryce Brentz. The problem with Brentz is he’ll be 28 this season and hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself in Triple-A over the last two seasons if you don’t count shooting himself in the leg with a gun, and I do not count that.
The dark horse here is Andrew Benintendi, who some scouts see as a player who could rise very quickly through the Red Sox system due to his age when drafted, experience as a college player and overall skill set. That’s great, but it’s not something to plan around. You don’t make organizational plans that depend on 22-year-olds with no experience above Single-A showing up and impacting the major league team. It could happen, but even if it did, it wouldn’t be until towards the end of the season (think Michael Conforto of the Mets).
That brings us to the trade market, and the trade market might be harder to predict than the stock of a player like Benintendi. We can look now and see who might be available, but things change once the season starts and teams start to win games. So maybe the best barometer of who might be available is to look at the players who will reach free agency following the 2016 season. There’s a lot of players of course, so I’ll summarize: yuck. Perhaps the easiest name to see as available is Jay Bruce of the Reds. The Reds look to be terrible in 2016 so they’ll likely be happy to move anything not nailed down. Bruce is coming off of a poor couple seasons in Cincinnati, but he’s still youngish (29) and potentially worthwhile… maybe? Beyond him… more dots. Josh Reddick? Alejandro De Aza? You can already see the problem here. That doesn’t mean there won’t be anyone worth dealing for, just that from where we sit now it doesn’t look all that promising.
The good news for the Red Sox, if there is any good news here for the Red Sox, is that Castillo mediocrity won’t be debilitating.
The good news for the Red Sox, if there is any good news here for the Red Sox, is that Castillo mediocrity won’t be debilitating. That’s not to say you wouldn’t rather have Justin Upton, because you would really really rather have Justin Upton, but clearly that isn’t happening. FanGraphs’ Steamer projections have Castillo hitting .270/.313/.403 this season, and if you accept that as a baseline of offensive production and move his defense from below to above average, that puts him into plus territory overall. In 2015 the league average left fielder hit .256/.319/.411, so Castillo doesn’t project to be actually good, but at least he shouldn’t be bad enough to sink the team. Taking this a step further, the fact that the Red Sox have devoted so much time and money to the 2016 team and yet aren’t attempting to replace Castillo has to count for something as well. Right? Probably? Let’s go with that.
Ultimately, Castillo hasn’t played much major league baseball, but he’s played enough to warrant skepticism that he’ll ever show much beyond production beyond a glorified fourth outfielder. Fortunately, the Red Sox should have a deep enough roster that they can give him the chance to develop further, and if he fails to capitalize on that chance there are other options. Not necessarily good ones, but for now at least, that’s a problem to tackle later.
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