This time, the Detroit Tigers are probably better off losing to the Bostons Red Sox.
Although Tigers fans were excited about numerous media reports that had Detroit as one of the leaders in the race to sign Cuban defector Rusney Castillo, they shouldn’t look on his reported six-year, $72 million contract with Boston as a crushing defeat on par with last year’s ALCS.
The truth is, Castillo, 27, would have been a piece of the 2015 puzzle, not this year’s team. And even if he did contribute next season and beyond, Castillo’s probably not destined to be a game-changer on the level of countrymen Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes.
On paper, Castillo looked like a good fit for the Tigers. He’s a speedy center fielder who showed power in a July workout, which would have filled the defensive hole left by Austin Jackson and provided some much-needed pop to a Detroit offense that has struggled badly since the All-Star break.
His statistics in Cuba were impressive, too. He hit .319 in five seasons for Los Tigres de Ciego de Avila and peaked in the 2011-12 season, batting .342 with a .982 OPS. He finished that year with 21 homers and 27 steals, despite only playing 113 games in Cuba’s short winter season.
That said, Castillo hasn’t played since being suspended in early 2013 for what’s believed to be an attempt to defect. He was left off the Cuban roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, even though he had replaced Cespedes as the team’s starting center fielder, and remained under suspension when the 2013-14 season began in December. He defected that same month and began the process of qualifying for a major-league contract.
After almost 18 months off, Castillo likely requires a significant amount of work to get ready to play in the majors. He’ll need to see at least a couple weeks of live pitching, and with the minor-league seasons ending, there wouldn’t be anywhere for him to do that.
If the Tigers had gotten him a work visa and signed him before Aug. 31, their only option would have been to let him work himself into shape at the major-league level, which they couldn’t afford to do in the middle of a pennant race.
So the Tigers would have been committing $72 million to a guy who wasn’t going to have an impact until next season. Which leads to the biggest question: How good is this guy?
After his public workout last month, which was attended by almost every major-league team, he was compared to one player more than anyone else, current Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis. Castillo isn’t a big guy — though he’s bulked up to 205 pounds on a 5-foot-9 frame — and his power is expected to translate to the gaps in the majors, not over the fences.
There are also question marks over his defensive ability, especially his arm, and how he’ll adapt to pitching in the United States after hitting in the Cuban league, which tends to feature more breaking balls and only a few pitchers with a mid-90s fastball.
If all goes right, Castillo might turn into a player who could have helped the Tigers in 2015 and beyond. There’s no guarantee of that, though, and $72 million is a lot of money for a team that’s already carrying some big-money, high-risk contracts.
Unlike last October, losing this one to the Red Sox might be a victory in the long run.