Rebounding is a funny thing when it comes to guys with eight digits in their contracts. They’re already chastised for being awful one year, and the baseline for next year always seems to be MVP candidate, or the season is a failure. That’s some wishful thinking at best, and at worst, it’s just waiting for a train that’ll never arrive.
When Rusney Castillo was signed, the public expectation was that he was getting $72 million to be a star. The team’s expectation was that he was getting $72 million to be a ready-made outfielder that would take a few months of seasoning until he was ready to be a rock in the outfield for a few years. The reality is they signed an outfielder with a great glove, bad baserunning instincts and a worm-burning bat.
Looking at Castillo, it’s easy to fantasize about what he could be when you see how effortless some of his home runs are and how great some of his throws turn out to be. Then you realize a good portion of the MLB.com highlights directly involving him are either him making an out on the basepaths or committing an error. Sure, you can chalk it up to not getting his reps in early on last year due to an oblique strain, but you can only blame your sides so much.
Coming into 2016, Castillo finally has that outfield job Ben Cherington envisioned two years ago when he signed the Cuban. Left field at Fenway isn’t the hardest job in baseball – hell, we saw Manny Ramirez flounder around out there for eight years – and Castillo has the tools to make it look easy. Problem is, those tools haven’t translated to on-field skill, and it’s not like he has Man-Ram’s bat to wave away whatever mistakes he will inevitably make. His value has to come through his glovework, or else there’s no value at all.
It looks a little bleak, sure. That is, until you see what he’s trying to be better than in 2016. I mean, it’s still gonna be a bit bleak but it’ll look better. I promise.
When Rusney Castillo was signed, the public expectation was that he was getting $72 million to be a star. The team’s expectation was that he was getting $72 million to be a ready-made outfielder.
Left Fielder Hanley Ramirez had a nice ring to it for all of a month. In April, there was something to that idea, as he was annoying the New Hampshire locals by hitting everything through their windows. Then he hurt his shoulder in May, and the wheels came off. The power was still there somewhat, but he wasn’t hitting well enough overall, and his fielding isn’t something we talk about around small children. In the end, Hanley hit .249/.291/.426 with a .252 TAv as the starting left fielder.
That’s bad, right? A slash line like that with no fielding to speak of? If you add a decent glove to that, it becomes … what’s the word … tolerable, especially if said player isn’t a vital cog to your offense. Enter Rusney Castillo.
Using PECOTA, we can see that Castillo’s likeliest outcome offensively is roughly a .264/.311/.399 slash with a .250 TAv. That’s a shade below average, but considering Castillo’s hitting grounders half the time, it’s not unexpected. The difference here is the fielding. While Ramirez was a butcher in left, Castillo looks to be a positive force out there. He’s got the arm for it, and, mental lapses aside, his range isn’t anything to scoff at.
Put that all together and you’ve got a 1.2 WARP season, with a chance for something better if he can stop knocking every pitch into the infield dirt. Ramirez totaled a -1.1 WARP in 2015. An in-house replacement giving you a two-win improvement by simply existing in left field is the stuff dreams are made of.
That’s all Castillo has to do to be good in 2016. He doesn’t have to be some unstoppable force or a breakout star – he just has to be better than what Hanley Ramirez was. That could be said for a lot of the 2016 Red Sox: they only have to be an improvement on what came before and everything will be fine. That’s the ideal situation, but things seldom shake out the way we want them to, much less how we expect they will.
Sure, Castillo’s getting paid roughly $12 million a year to not be anything special. It’s a raw deal, at least for the team. Evaluating him using contract figures is always going to end badly, because he’s probably not going to play up to all those millions of dollars in the end. That’s a legitimate gripe, but it’s one the team really can’t do much about in the short-term. Long-term? That’s an issue, and they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it. For 2016, having Castillo in left represents a notable increase in overall production, and possibly his own value as well.
Castillo doesn’t have to be a superstar. It wasn’t fair to expect that of him to begin with, even though the contract doesn’t help. It’s probably not smart to think he’ll be an offensive force come April either. View him through a is-he-better-than-Ramirez lens, however, and he instantly becomes something. Not an MVP candidate or even an All-Star, but a decent, serviceable player that could be useful. Sometimes, being better is just a matter of perspective.
Photo by Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports Images