Red Sox: Will Rusney Castillo get another shot in 2017?

A strong showing in winter ball won’t necessarily lead to Rusney Castillo getting another shot in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox.

Remember Rusney Castillo? He’s the $72.5 million man that the Boston Red Sox signed in 2014 who was supposed to be the next big thing coming out of Cuba.

It would be a massive understatement to say that Castillo hasn’t quite lived up to those lofty expectations. The once promising outfielder has appeared in only 99 games at the major league level over the past three seasons, hitting an unspectacular .262/.301/.379.

Castillo’s career hit rock bottom in 2016 when the Red Sox outrighted him off the 40-man roster. He’ll turn 30 years old this summer, a point where most player approach the tail end of their primes. With his path to playing time blocked by Boston’s star-studded crop of young outfielders, we’re left to wonder if Castillo will ever get another shot with the Red Sox.

For those still clinging to the hope that Castillo can still contribute to this franchise, his excellent winter ball performance offers a glimmer of optimism. Castillo has hit .392/.431/.451 through 14 games playing for Criollos de Caguas in Puerto Rico, piling up three doubles, seven RBI, five walks and seven strikeouts.

This performance comes on the heels of a strong finish to the 2016 season for Triple-A Pawtucket, when he hit .300 with a .735 OPS after the break.

Now that Castillo is finally showing signs of life, does this mean he might be given another shot in the big leagues? Not so fast.

Boston’s outfield is set with Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts starting from left to right. The Opening Day roster is expected to include lefty-masher Chris Young as the fourth outfielder, while Brock Holt is also capable of filling it at all three outfield positions. The Red Sox would need to be snake bitten with a rash of injuries to necessitate dipping into the minor league system for a replacement that would see significant playing time.

The only outfielder on the 40-man roster expected to begin the season in Pawtucket is Bryce Brentz, who has provided essentially replacement-level value in his brief stints in Boston over the past two seasons. Could Castillo leapfrog over him on the organizational depth chart by outplaying him in Pawtucket? It’s possible, although there are other factors that may discourage the Red Sox from calling up Castillo even if his production is more deserving of the opportunity.

For one thing, adding Castillo back to the 40-man roster may require removing someone else, subjecting that player to waivers where the organization could potentially lose them. There wasn’t much concern with that happening when they took Castillo off the 40-man roster last year since they knew no team would claim him given his albatross salary in comparison to his production. The Red Sox currently only have 39 players on the roster, but that is expected to change by the end of spring training.

If Castillo builds on his strong winter ball showing with an impressive spring then perhaps he can earn that final roster spot, making him eligible to be called up to the big leagues if needed, but I wouldn’t count on it. By leaving him off the 40-man roster, the Red Sox avoid having his average annual salary of $10.36 million count against the luxury tax.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski planned his offseason strategy with the luxury tax threshold in mind. Wanting no part of the steep penalties implemented in new collective bargaining agreement, the Red Sox resisted the temptation to splurge on big name free agents and dealt Clay Buchholz in a salary dump to ensure that they would dip below the tax line. After going through that much effort to avoid the tax, why jeopardize that for the sake of calling up Castillo?

Boston should have somewhere between $10-15 million in wiggle room beneath the $195 luxury tax threshold, depending on the yet to be determined salaries of certain arbitration and pre-arbitration eligible players on the roster. Calling up Castillo would eat up most, if not all, of that remaining space, hindering Dombrowski’s ability to make additional moves near the trade deadline.

The Red Sox would need to be convinced that Castillo can help put them over the top, yet nothing that we’ve seen from him this far suggests he would have a significant impact.

Castillo’s suddenly surging bat makes him a player to monitor. If he can continue his upward trend then he could establish enough trade value to entice another organization to take a chance on him. At the very least, a strong season in the minors could put him back in the good graces of the Red Sox front office, potentially putting him in position to see time in the majors again at some point before his contract runs out.

The Red Sox may still squeeze some value out of Castillo’s deal, just don’t count on it to happen this year.

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