Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo preparing for his contract year

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 9: Rusney Castillo #38 of the Boston Red Sox bats during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 9, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 9: Rusney Castillo #38 of the Boston Red Sox bats during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 9, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Rusney Castillo is preparing for a contract year as he aims to earn a major league contract once his deal with the Boston Red Sox expires.

Rusney Castillo has spent the last few years toiling away in Triple-A but he hasn’t let his circumstances deter him from his dream of returning to the big leagues. His banishment to baseball purgatory may finally be drawing to an end as his contract with the Boston Red Sox expires after this season.

That makes this a contract year for Castillo, a chance to prove himself to potential suitors who may give him an opportunity when his current organization will not.

"“I understand that I have to go out and have the best year I can because it is a contract year for me,” Castillo told WEEI’s Rob Bradford through a translator. “Whatever happens afterwards, happens but I’m just preparing myself to hopefully get a chance to be up in the major leagues."

The story of Castillo is well-known by this point. He left his native Cuba to sign a 7-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox in 2014. The strong first impression he made in a 10-game sample at the tail end of that season fizzled out quickly.

Castillo underwhelmed the following season, hitting .253 with a .647 OPS and five home runs in 80 games for the Red Sox while shuttling back and forth from Boston to Pawtucket. He appeared in only nine games in 2016 and that was the last we saw of Castillo in the majors.

The Red Sox determined that Castillo’s moderate production didn’t warrant having his salary count against their payroll. He’s still getting paid but by removing him from their 40-man roster, Castillo no longer factors into the budget for luxury tax purposes.

Castillo is talented enough to be in the big leagues. He hit .302 with 37 home runs and 22 steals over the last three seasons with Triple-A Pawtucket. He’s done more than enough to earn another shot at this level but it hasn’t come along with his contract serving as an anchor to his career.

Spring training has arrived and Castillo has accepted his annual invitation. He has impressed during camp in previous years but it was all for naught. While players around him are fighting for roster spots, Castillo knows there won’t be one waiting for him no matter how well he performs. He just keeps working, hoping his day will come again someday.

"“At first, it was a bit frustrating but it doesn’t change the way I go about my business,” said Castillo. “I try and work hard and try and take advantage of the opportunity I have in Triple-A and if they give me that opportunity to get back in the majors, I’m just always ready for that moment.”"

Castillo will be 33 years old when he hits free agency after this season. His next contract won’t be anywhere near the amount of money the Red Sox foolishly handed him but any deal that includes a chance to make it to the majors is one that Castillo eagerly looks forward to.

The Red Sox cleared plenty of room in their budget to place them comfortably below the tax line with a payroll estimated at just under $195 million (per @RedSoxPayroll). Castillo’s average annual value of $10.3 million would leave them with limited wiggle room if they were to add him back to the 40-man roster. Most projections aren’t optimistic about Boston’s playoff chances but if they surprise us by remaining in the hunt by the trade deadline then they’ll need the payroll flexibility to acquire upgrades.

If the Red Sox fall out of the race then they may pivot in the opposite direction by trading some veterans to shed more salary. In that case, why not call up Castillo? They are paying him the same salary either way so if there’s no danger in his contract pushing them into tax territory and they’ve opened a spot on the 40-man roster with a trade, there’s no harm in giving him a shot at the end of a lost season.

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The Red Sox made a mistake by overpaying Castillo and they’ve punished him for it by burying him in the minor leagues. They can’t afford to rectify that mistake during a playoff push but if this season goes south then they owe it to Castillo to let him show what he can do at the major league level before he hits the market. Castillo will be ready when his opportunity comes. He’s been preparing for it ever since it was taken away from him.