Red Sox: Making a case for adding Rusney Castillo to 2018 roster

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 6: Rusney Castillo
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 6: Rusney Castillo /

Outfielder Rusney Castillo’s connect to new Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora could help lead him back to the big league roster.

If the Boston Red Sox plan on adding outfield depth this offseason they need only look 50 miles south to Pawtucket where they’ll find Rusney Castillo ready and waiting.

Castillo has yet to capitalize on the potential that convinced the previous front office regime to ink him to a 7-year, $72.5 million deal in 2014. He spent the entire 2017 season at the Triple-A level where he hit .314 with a .857 OPS in 87 games with Pawtucket. This was by far the best production we’ve seen from Castillo since his brief 10 game stint in Boston following his 2014 debut with the organization.

The limited time that Castillo has spent in the majors has been underwhelming. He owns a .262/.301/.379 slash line in 99 career games with the Red Sox. However, there are signs that he’s developed into a better hitter since we last saw him in Boston. Castillo had become a bit too pull-happy in recent years but started using more of the field this season while drastically decreasing his groundball rate. He also set career-highs with 15 home runs and 22 doubles while slugging .507 this season. Facing major league pitching would present a much steeper challenge, yet these are promising signs that he’s ready for it.

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Despite his improved production, Castillo toiled away in the minors all year. He was removed from the 40-man roster in order to avoid having his $10.36 million average annual salary push them over the luxury tax threshold. Now that the Red Sox have ducked the tax to reset the draconian repeater penalties, the expectation is that they’ll be more willing to extend the payroll beyond the $197 million threshold set for 2018.

With Chris Young‘s $6.5 million salary falling off the books, adding Castillo back to the roster would increase the payroll by less than $4 million. That modest increase would be well worthwhile as long as the production merits it. Young was signed solely for his ability to mash left-handed pitching – a skill that abandoned him this year. Castillo hit a blistering .395 with a 1.085 OPS against lefties in Triple-A this season, suggesting he’s more than capable of taking over the role Young floundered in.

Also working in Castillo’s favor is his connection to Alex Cora. The new Red Sox manager has been a supporter of Castillo dating back to when he managed him in Puerto Rico with Criollos de Caguas during the 2014-15 offseason. If any manager is capable of getting the most out of Castillo, it’s Cora.

Boston’s biggest offseason priority will be adding a power bat to anchor the lineup, which isn’t an area that Castillo excels in. Young’s expected departure seemingly opens a spot for Castillo as a fourth outfielder but that could change if Dave Dombrowski makes a big splash by trading for Giancarlo Stanton or signing a top free agent like J.D. Martinez.

Boston would receive a 20 percent tax if they exceed the threshold by $20 million or less, which they almost certainly will if they acquire one of those high profile sluggers. The tax increases to 32 percent if they go over $20 million beyond the threshold but remain under $40 million. They may not be aiming to fall in that range but should be willing to consider it for the right upgrade. What they won’t do is push the payroll more than $40 million beyond the threshold, which would result in a 62.5 percent tax and drop their top pick in the 2019 draft down 10 spots in the first round. Boston will want no part in paying that price, for financial as well as baseball reasons.

If the Red Sox manage to acquire a high profile bat that takes them deep into the tax then it may hinder Castillo’s chances of making the Opening Day roster. The front office may be lukewarm to the idea of adding Castillo’s salary if it takes him more than $20 million beyond the threshold. If his contract would push them beyond $40 million then that’s a dealbreaker.

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The progress Castillo showed this season shows that he’s capable of helping this team. He would certainly be an upgrade with a higher ceiling than the outfielders the Red Sox had on the bench this year. The owners still have to pay Castillo’s salary either way, so his spot on the roster will boil down to whether or not the team’s other offseason moves leave room for him on the active roster and under the tax bracket they are comfortable spending their way into.