The latest prospect of intrigue out of Cuba, outfielder Rusney Castillo, held a showcase today that was quite the event. An astounding 28 of the 30 teams in major league baseball attended, and, unsurprisingly, the Rays were among them, as noted by Marc Topkin. Is Castillo a player that the Rays could actually sign, or were the Rays just doing their due diligence?
Castillo, 27, has one thing the Rays absolutely can’t get enough of: versatility. A smaller but muscular player at 5’9″, 205, Castillo features tools across the board, featuring a quick bat, excellent speed, a solid arm, and good power for a potential centerfielder. His biggest supporters have compared him to a right-handed Brett Gardner with more power as a player with legitimate speed and 30+ steal potential who also can hit the ball with authority. That is a great profile for a centerfielder, and it gets even better because Castillo also played second and third base in Cuba. Castillo worked out at shortstop in addition to centerfield in his workout, and while he likely does not have the hands to play at the former spot, his ability to play at least of couple of spots on the infield only increases his appeal.
On the negative side, Castillo’s bat is far from a sure thing. Some scouts regard him as overaggressive at the plate with poor pitch recognition, the type of flaw that could make him into more of a fourth outfielder or utility player. In addition, at 27 years old, Castillo is basically out of time to develop that part of his game. He might spend a month in the minor leagues after he signs (reportedly in the near future), but the team that inks him, especially if it’s contending, will expect him to be big league-ready by September. It is a good bet that Rusney Castillo can be a major league contributor–with his versatility making that even more clear–but the uncertainty about his bat also adds plenty of risk into the equation.
The bottom line with these signings out of Cuba is that the team that regards the player the most highly and has the incentive to sign him will pay him a contract that will shock half of baseball or more. Even for Yasiel Puig, who has turned into a superstar, the initial reaction from people around baseball to his seven-year, $42 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers was utter mystification. Castillo is older and lacks Puig’s potential, but a player around his age in Alex Guerrero received four years and $28 million while Erisbel Arruebarrena, three years younger, got five years and $25 million. With so many teams interested in Rusney Castillo, you have to think that someone will see that above-average centerfielder upside and give him at least $15 million and more likely $20 million over four years. (Considering that this season is more than half over, he could wind up with five years to compensate for that.) Is that a rate that the Rays can compete with?
When you think about the Rays, $5 million a season is a rate similar to what they give some of their best players, not to unproven quantities. Rusney Castillo has the potential to be more, but the Rays can’t afford to be giving a utilityman that type of money. They could backload a deal and maybe get a team option or two at the end, but unless the Rays see their second baseman of the future or the next Ben Zobrist, they won’t submit an offer to Rusney Castillo that can compare with those of the other teams in pursuit of him.