Initially, my inclination was to write a Transaction Analysis for Rusney Castillo signing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. It is, after all, a rather important signing based on Castillo’s pedigree and his status as a Cuban who has not repatriated. For many of the usual reasons the Eagles signing of Castillo is news worth talking about. However, the more thought I gave to the signing the easier it became to see that Castillo’s signing represents something that Major League Baseball, and its most ardent fans, don’t want you to realize: there is life for baseball players after and outside of MLB.
When Castillo first left Cuba and signed with the Boston Red Sox he was heralded as a can’t miss prospect. That was why the Red Sox were willing to sign him to a 7-year, $72.5 million deal and immediately add the then 26-year-old to the big league roster. Castillo impressed in his 10 games with Boston that season, but what followed was a series of disappointments. However, contrary to the popular narrative of Castillo being a bum or a bust it’s important to realize what player he was beforehand and how the Red Sox tried to make him into a player he was never really going to be.
The Red Sox, and all of affiliated baseball, saw the raw talent that Castillo possessed and figured there was plenty of power in his swing. He had put up decent power numbers in Serie Nacional de Béisbol and they thought that with the better coaching of the Red Sox that power could be further tapped into and the Sox would find themselves with a possible 30-30 outfielder. The Sox could have gotten a 20-20 outfielder who hit for average but didn’t destroy the baseball. That wasn’t good enough for them so despite his initial good showing they went about trying to change his swing and find the power he couldn’t muster himself.
What followed were multiple seasons where the once top prospect still hit for average but lost any semblance of power whatsoever. Instead of hitting plenty of line drives and using his speed to maximize his damage on the basepaths, Castillo reverted into a three true outcomes guy. He had never walked much before coming to affiliated ball, but his walks and strikeouts had always hovered around one another. In affiliated ball, his walks stayed low while his strikeouts skyrocketed. It was never the pitching that was the biggest problem (though it was an issue), it was that Castillo was trying to be a big bopper when he was a mini bopper in actuality.
It’s telling that Castillo’s best year in affiliated ball was 2019 when the Red Sox had completely given up on him and were just letting him do wherever he wanted. He slashed .278/.321/.448 with 17 home runs, 25 walks, and 63 strikeouts in 492 plate appearances. He played a little more loose and wild, which resulted in his getting caught stealing more than he stole actual bases. But, he was the player he was always meant to be: a guy who hit line drives while having some pop but also didn’t strike out an astronomical amount. That of course was not what the Red Sox wanted or felt they paid for and Castillo found himself released when his contract ran out in October of last year.
At that point, the articles you would expect to show up came in droves. Castillo was a bust and a bum, one of the worst signings in Red Sox history, etc., etc. There’s no denying that Castillo did not live up to the hype he had when entering the league. However, that hype itself was overinflated and removes the Red Sox from any accountability for trying to turn Castillo into a player he wasn’t then, isn’t now, and never will be.
Shortly after his release Castillo found himself back in the Winter Leagues, a place where he has been welcomed throughout his career. His type of player is valued in every one of the Latin Winter Leagues. He has succeeded playing in Mexico and Puerto Rico at various points over the past seven seasons. He’s also struggled, but that’s not to be unexpected because Castillo is a talented player, not a “can’t miss” player. In the Winter Leagues, he has been allowed to be a contact hitter and not a slugger. It’s not surprising that he has thrived when playing up to his skillset.
Maybe the Eagles will also try to change Castillo, but I’m not of the mind that they intend to go down that path. Castillo is 32 now and the Eagles see in him a guy who will make contact and drive the ball into gaps. That’s worth the $600,000 they are paying him this season. It also means that as much as MLB and its fans may not want to believe it, Castillo isn’t a bust. He’s still playing professional baseball for a living. His world didn’t end once his MLB days were over. MLB isn’t all there is to baseball and just because a player doesn’t succeed in MLB that doesn’t mean they can’t still succeed at playing baseball.
Castillo has a chance to make a big impact with the Eagles. While I’d love to see him repatriate and in the SNB once again he likely won’t and there’s nothing wrong with that. He also won’t step foot on an MLB diamond ever again, but he doesn’t need to in order for his baseball career to be a success. The product of Ciego de Ávila is making a damn good living playing pro ball and he’s having fun doing what he loves. If Castillo is what you would consider a bust then I think you need to reevaluate how you’re using that word.
Lead photo courtesy of Douglas DeFelice – USA Today