Rusney Castillo-Mandatory Credit: baseballamerica.com

The Atlanta Braves Should Pursue Rusney Castillo

The Next Big Thing from Cuba is likely to sign with a major league team this week as 27-year-old Rusney Castillo and his representatives are now going over the bids (which were due on Friday).

BaseballAmerica has the definitive info on Castillo, and I will defer most of the scouting reporting to their quite capable hands.  I have seen comparisons to Ron Gant, Jacoby Ellsbury. Brett Gardner, and even Kenny Lofton.  He’s a solid 205 lbs. packed into a 5’9″ frame with “70″ level speed (think Jose Peraza; Billy Hamilton is an 80).

But the question today is this:  why should Atlanta – a team that indeed scouted him – go after this guy?

 

The Pros

  • He costs money – but no draft picks, no prospects.
  • The number of solid outfield prospects in the Braves’ system right now are sorely limited.  Braxton Davidson - just drafted – is the best one, but he’s a long way off.
  • Early estimates suggest that Castillo is worth $50 million for 6 years.  Honestly, with what we’ve seen from players like Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes so far, such a contract would seem like a relative bargain.  But more on that later.
  • He should be able to join a major league club fairly quickly – possibly before the end of this season.  More on that later as well.
  • From the sound of it, he could be a lead-off candidate – though given the rise of other players like Peraza, I’m not certain I’d see that happening with Atlanta.  Regardless, his speed would play well as he appears to have solid gap-to-gap power (not unlike Freddie Freeman‘s hitting, from the sound of it).
  • He would be better than B.J. Upton.

 

The Cons

  • Everybody is after him.  Particularly the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers.  Many others will bid as well.  This will be a bidding war, the kind of battle that Atlanta usually doesn’t wander into.
  • We’ve already got outfielders under contract through at least 2015… 2017 in one case.
  • He’s already 27, and the Braves are making a pointed effort to keep players until roughly age 30… which would not be compatible with the expected 5-6 year pact.
  • The Cuban expatriates have been doing remarkably well thus far.  Castillo likely will not be quite the level of a Puig, Cespedes, or Jose Abreu, but should be following closely behind.

 

So Why Would This Make Sense to Do?

First, regarding his eligibility:  as of today, Castillo merely has a Visitor’s visa (according to writer Joel Sherman).  That’s insufficient, as he needs a Work visa to be able to play.  If that doesn’t happen before August 31st (less than 2 weeks), then he’s ineligible for post-season play, and thus would be of limited benefit for 2014.

This could play into the hands of the Braves, as decisions about their existing outfield could be deferred until the off-season.  But there’s clearly changes that would have to be made if Castillo were to sign with Atlanta.

Namely, B.J. Upton and his schtick would have to go.

I’m not going to speculate on how that might be accomplished, though recent reports that we commented on here suggest a framework for doing so… one best pursued this off-season.

Whether Castillo works better as a corner OF or center fielder remains an open question, but there would be ways that Atlanta could handle that – but certainly a signing of the speedy Cuban would mean that somebody goes away, and B.J. is the prime candidate.

 

The Contract

Atlanta will have to over-pay somewhat if they want him.  They will also need to be a little creative in the process to entice him to sign with the Braves:  something like this:

  • 6 years, $66 million overall:  $10.5 million per year, beginning in 2015, $3m bonus today.
  • Opt out clauses for Castillo:  end of the 3rd, 4th and 5th years.  That’s a ramp-up of what the A’s did to sign Cespedes.
  • Club option for that 6th year

Given his age, Atlanta would actually want him to opt out after one of those seasons.  This way, if he turns into Mike Trout, then we’ve still got him for a while until other players become available or other contracts expire (Justin Upton‘s in 2015, for example).  Even if he turns out to be merely ‘above average’, the contract would still be reasonable.

 

So is Castillo worth getting?  Yes – he could improve the offense while allowing Atlanta to jettison a bad decision (likely inheriting somebody else’s bad decision, but that’s the way it goes – and if it’s a pitcher, then he only impacts you every 5 days as opposed to seeing B.J. in the lineup every day.

 

Will this happen?  Not likely without an aggressive play on Frank Wren’s part.  He missed on the last several, though did catch Yenier Bello.  Not many other Cuban stars remain.

But he did want to shake things up, right?

 

 

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