Red Sox Just About Out of Patience with Rusney Castillo

Rusney Castillo doesn’t seem to have much of a future with the Red Sox, and the struggling outfielder didn’t help himself in his first spring game.

The Boston Red Sox have plenty of reasons to be excited as Spring Training games begin. They have a fearsome lineup even after the retirement of David Ortiz, added Chris Sale to an already strong rotation, and look like one of the clear favorites to win the American League. It would be hard to genuinely complain about anything right now. But even at the outset of what looks like another great season, the sting of the Rusney Castillo experiment remains.

Boston signed Castillo to a hefty seven-year, $72.5 million deal in August of 2014, when he seemed destined to be the next big star out of Cuba. He played in 10 major league games at the end of that season, slashing .333/.400/.528 with two home runs over 40 plate appearances. Naturally, expectations were high heading into 2015.

Unfortunately, the outfielder didn’t exactly pick up where he left off. In 80 games Castillo managed a .253/.288/.359 line, five homers and 29 RBI. The disappointing performance earned him barely any MLB playing time in 2016 – just nine games in which he was used almost exclusively as a pinch runner or late defensive replacement. Castillo was placed on outright waivers in June, at which point he was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket. He underwhelmed there as well, slashing .263/.309/.354 with two homers and 34 RBI in 103 games.

To make matters worse, Castillo (who turns 30 in July) has no clear opening on the team. The Red Sox boast one of the mast talented young outfields in the game. Mookie Betts is an MVP contender, Jackie Bradley Jr. had a breakout season, and top prospect Andrew Benintendi is ready to go. Barring injury or a position change, there’s no real place for Castillo on the present roster.

And he’s apparently not helping his case much in Spring Training. Castillo drew the ire of manager John Farrell on Thursday for failing to run out a ground ball during Boston’s exhibition game against Northeastern University. As quoted in the Boston Herald, Farrell said:

“…for a player in his situation, every little aspect of the game is important. That’s something that was addressed in the moment. He needs to execute the game situation. And for that matter, every player. But that one obviously stood out.”

It’s clear the organization is running out of patience with Castillo, and fundamental errors such as losing focus or refusing to put in baseline effort – even in an early spring game – is not going to endear him to anyone. When an otherwise productive veteran doesn’t run hard out of the box, you tend to overlook it as long as it doesn’t become a pattern. When a fringe player fighting to make the team does it, it can be an unforgivable sin.

It’s certainly not Castillo’s fault the Red Sox gave him that big contract. But the fact of the matter is that three years into his MLB career, he just hasn’t performed. Despite his price tag, Boston is under no obligation to put him on the roster unless his play warrants it. And with the level of talent the Sox already have on the major league squad, that will be an uphill climb for Castillo even if he does get himself together in 2017.

At this point, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Red Sox to just chalk Castillo up as a $70+ million mistake. It’s a costly one, sure, but they are one of the select franchises that can afford it, even in addition to the money they’ve already sunk into Pablo Sandoval with little reward thus far. And when you’re looking like a World Series contender for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to get too broken up about the fact that he didn’t pan out.

Castillo is under contract through 2020, so he’s not going away unless the Sox do something about it. He would have limited trade appeal even to teams with an outfield need, and obviously Boston would have to pick up most of the remaining salary. If things continue spiraling downward for Castillo, a clean break might become the preferred course of action.

But if the upcoming season goes the way the Red Sox hope, they likely won’t mind too much.

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