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ALEX SPEIER | MINOR DETAILS

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By Alex Speier
Clear Lee Lee Lee Rider Rider Clear Lee Rider Blue Clear Clear Blue Blue Blue Lee Rider August 17, 2018

The drive is up to an hour in traffic, but Rusney Castillo rarely takes more than 40-45 minutes to get to McCoy Stadium from Boston. At this point, he knows the traffic patterns too well to get stuck in bumper-to-bumper commutes.

It has been more than two years since Castillo played a big league game for the Boston Red Sox. Since the 31-year-old was taken off the team’s 40-man roster and assigned outright to Pawtucket in June 2016, the haul from his Boston residence to Rhode Island has become a staple of his existence.

It would be hard to blame Castillo if he bemoaned his commute. Instead, he views it as a valuable reminder of his purpose.

“I live in Boston for a reason,” Castillo said through PawSox broadcaster Will Flemming. “My mentality every day is that I’m a big leaguer and I belong there. I never want to leave Boston because I know I belong there. I’m firmly confident I’ll be a big leaguer again soon.”

The self-assessment isn’t a delusion. Evaluators inside and outside the Red Sox organization see a player with big league tools who, in a vacuum, wouldn’t have a hard time finding a big league job as a fourth outfielder or platoon option. On the right team, he might even get the chance to start.

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Castillo is performing like someone who, in the words of one AL scout, “can help a lot of clubs.” He’s hitting .325/.367/.425 in 106 Triple A games this year, including a .366/.423/.465 line since the All-Star break. The hitter who lost his spot on the 40-man roster because he chased everything and seemingly hit nothing but ground balls has gotten his swing under control, improving his pitch recognition while shooting liners from gap to gap.

“This is by far the best I’ve ever been,” said Castillo. “I’m much better than when I was in the big leagues.”

Inside the PawSox clubhouse, Castillo earns raves for his professionalism. Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles described him as a “tireless worker” with a ferocious commitment to maintaining his swing and conditioning. He has stayed at exactly 203 pounds all season, part of what Castillo believes has contributed to his healthiest season since signing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox in late 2014.

“He’s a big leaguer,” said Boles. “He’s a big leaguer on a Triple A field. You coach at third. The third baseman says, ‘How is this guy still here?’ Everybody knows it. Everybody knows he’s major league-quality.”

Unlike his commute to Pawtucket, however, Castillo’s road to the big leagues features nothing but detours. He was taken off the big league roster at a time when doing so meant that his salary no longer counted toward the Red Sox’ payroll for luxury tax purposes.

Even as the Red Sox are paying him extremely well (salaries of $11 million this year and next, with a $13.5 million guarantee for 2020), they don’t have to pay any penalties on that money. However, MLB and the Players’ Association closed that loophole in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, so if he is added to the big league roster but then outrighted again, his average annual salary would still be taxable.

Hence, if the team added him to the big league roster for even a day, all of his remaining earnings (roughly $3 million this year, and a bit over $26 million through 2020) would be subject to the luxury tax.

On top of his salary, the Red Sox would have to pay about $2 million in taxes for calling him up for the rest of this year. And given that there’s a strong likelihood they will be over the luxury tax threshold in 2019 or 2020, adding Castillo to the roster at any point this year likely would cost the team at least $10 million in taxes — and possibly quite a bit more — between now and 2020.

That tax alone represents a higher cost than many reserve outfielders.

That cost has been prohibitive to a callup. Yet it also has made trading Castillo prohibitive, since the Sox would have to subsidize most of his remaining deal – with the subsidy counting against the team’s payroll as calculated for luxury taxes.

The only way that Castillo could get back to the big leagues without costing the Sox millions in tax money is if the team released him. Yet given that they are paying him handsomely, they have little incentive to release him just so he can seek an opportunity elsewhere.

Bottom line: Castillo appears stuck in Pawtucket. He has the right to opt out of his deal after 2019, but would have to leave $13.5 million on the table to do so. If he doesn’t, he could spend much or all of two more full seasons driving back and forth from Boston to Pawtucket.

Yet with perspective born from the life he left behind in Cuba and the one he’s created with his wife and child in Boston, Castillo refuses to dwell on the idea that a life-changing contract could also be an impediment to a big league opportunity.

“I never knew the rules and never imagined it could be this way, but I don’t focus on it in the least,” he said. “I only focus on getting better. I do realize that putting up numbers is the most important thing. If you put those numbers on paper, teams will notice and the opportunity will come.”

Lee Clear Rider Rider Lee Blue Lee Blue Blue Clear Lee Rider Clear Lee Rider Clear Blue Will Castillo retain the skills to compete at the game’s highest level when he no longer represents an accounting quandary?

Castillo can’t answer those questions by himself. The only thing he can do is perform.

“He’s a guy who stands out at this level,” said Boles. “But I watch him and the mission is the same. It’s doing everything he can to try to be an option for the big leagues.”

THREE UP

 Righthander Mike Shawaryn has gotten off to a strong start after his promotion to Pawtucket, with a seven-inning, complete-game shutout Tuesday representing his third solid start. He’s 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA, 19 strikeouts, and 6 walks.

While Shawaryn’s low-90s fastball and cutter/slider have always allowed him to excel against righties, an increased usage of his changeup has helped him handle Triple A lefties, who are hitting .194 with no extra-base hits against him.

  Bobby Dalbec continues to crush the ball since his promotion to Double A Portland, forging a .341/.404/.780 line with 5 homers and 8 extra-base hits in 11 games.

His strikeout rate has jumped to 36.2 percent in Portland (up from 31.0 percent in High A Salem), though unexpectedly, most of the righthanded hitter’s issues have come against lefties. He’s 0 for 7 with six strikeouts against lefties; against righties, he is .412/.474/.941 with a 28.9 percent strikeout rate.

 Righthander Tanner Houck continued his second-half surge by blitzing through seven innings in 72 pitches (78 percent strikes) while allowing one run, striking out seven, and walking none Tuesday for High A Salem.

After early-season control struggles, the 2017 first-rounder has corrected course, striking out 50 and walking 10 over his last 48 innings (eight starts) while going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and getting a ton of ground balls.

THREE DOWN

  Lefthander Bobby Poyner has just three strikeouts in five appearances spanning 7 innings this month, and with lefties hitting a solid .255/.300/.468 with just a 17.6 percent strikeout rate against him, his early-season emergence as a surprise late-innings candidate seems increasingly unlikely to be repeated at the end of the year.

  Kole Cottam, who quickly emerged as one of the more interesting catching prospects in the system since being taken in the fourth round this year, was sidelined after just one game with Single A Greenville (following a promotion from Lowell) with a knee injury.

Between the 21-year-old Cottam’s issue and a rash of injuries for Salem catcher Roldani Baldwin, it’s been a difficult year for the health of the Red Sox’ top catching prospects.

  In short-season Lowell, outfielder Cole Brannen has been out since July 18 with an ankle sprain. He’d seemingly regained his footing by raising his average and OBP by about 100 points each over his tough early marks in Single A Greenville (from .157 with a .246 OBP to .256 with a .343 OBP). It remains to be seen whether he returns before the end of the season.

86 Comments
  • Dignan22 08/16/18 02:38 PM
    Alex, if they traded Castillo but ate most of his salary, would that count against the salary cap as well? It sounds like his only chance for making it back to the majors is if the Sox release him.
  • khannag 08/16/18 02:44 PM
    "The only way that Castillo could get back to the big leagues without costing the Sox millions in tax money is if the team released him."

    I know that's the practical option but factually speaking, couldn't he and the Sox agree to tear up his contract? I'm sure his agent and union will have conniptions but if he really wants to be in the big leagues, it's certainly an option for him. However, no team is going to pay a fourth outfielder $10m!
  • IronMask 08/16/18 03:36 PM
    "Yet given that they are paying him handsomely, they have little incentive to release him just so he can seek an opportunity elsewhere."

    Betty Marine Marine Betty Marine Faguine London London Betty Faguine Faguine Betty London xw10pqnUPLondon Beige London London London Beige Betty Betty Betty Beige Betty Betty Beige TYwHwqdIf he's released and does nothing, I get the club is on the hook for the remaining $29 million of the contract. But obviously he wants to play - can another team sign him for less? If so, do the Red Sox owe him the difference?
    • toadfanforever 08/16/18 04:12 PM
      The contract is guaranteed , if they release him they are still on the hook for the remainder of the contract.
    • Gammonsisabaseballgod 08/16/18 07:55 PM
      Clear Rider Rider Blue Clear Blue Rider Blue Lee Clear Clear Lee Lee Lee Rider Lee Blue After a release, any salary paid by another team would off-set what the Sox owe him, so there's no reason to pay him more than the minimum.
  • Little Julio 08/16/18 03:42 PM
    As explained the Red Sox Aren't going to call him up to the majors.
    Castillo would be crazy to tear up the contract even if that were allowed.

    So why don't the Red Sox release him? The money is lost.
    • 3littlebirds Lee Clear Lee Lee Rider Clear Rider Blue Blue Clear Rider Blue Lee Lee Blue Clear Rider 08/16/18 05:30 PM
      kudos to him for still working hard while collecting that multi, multi million dollar salary.
      the guy must really love the game.
      i agree, why don't the sox just release him? doesn't make a lot of sense if he is not in their future plans, which right now it doesn't seem he is, at 31 yr old and given the current team.
    • Junkman12 Lee Rider Clear Clear Rider Lee Blue Blue Blue Lee Blue Clear Rider Lee Lee Rider Clear 08/16/18 06:37 PM
      I think the reason would be that the Sox don't want to be paying him while he plays for another team.
  • user_1700434 08/16/18 03:46 PM
    Castillo is in a good but bad place. Could he agree to be traded for the 3M left on the contract for this year and then agree to have his contract renegotiated? It seems that MLB would have some pity for him.
    • SoxFanInIL 08/16/18 11:33 PM
      Pity? When a union is involved? LOL
    • verminte 08/17/18 02:38 AM
      If Castillo were to tear up the contract, and he and the Sox then negotiate a new deal, I don't care what the MLBPA says--I would tell them to (buzz) off. If they are too pigheaded to do the right thing, which would be to look the other way so Castillo gets another shot at the MLB, then that confirms they are dumber than rocks. Or at least heartless for one of its own.
  • Blue Gilda Pepe Gilda Pepe Jeans Pepe Blue Jeans Jeans Gilda dZqEwH
    podcaf 08/16/18 03:51 PM
    The other way back is to convince the Sox that he's worth the money. That would be some $11m/year, which no amount of AAA play can prove, I think. I wonder if he could exercise his opt-out ahead of time so the Sox know that they are off the hook after next season. Would that make him more enticing? If he were a pitcher, perhaps. OF, not so much.
  • Bottom-of-the-ninth 08/16/18 03:55 PM
    Look at it this way. Rusney Castillo impoverished in his native Cuba came to the United States where he signed a 72 million dollar contract to play baseball. Who among us wouldn't take that deal? It is what it is, there's no sense trying to reason it any other way.
  • nelle 08/16/18 04:38 PM
    Major League Baseball has to do something about the Castillo conundrum. It doesn't seem fair that he is kept from the big leagues because of financial impact.

    What should happen: the other owners should agree that in exchange for not counting his salary against the Sox, he should be released.
  • garytnyc 08/16/18 04:59 PM
    Since there seems to be consensus that he's a big leaguer, it's a shame the financial system precludes him from at least getting an opportunity. Even if not a bona fide full-time player in the bigs, there's no question he'd hit better than JBJ (after all, who doesn't?) and therein be good to platoon in CF.
    • Johnny Quest 08/16/18 05:39 PM
      I think there are major questions about Castillo hitting better than Bradley. I don't think he would. And all other aspects of his game are clearly inferior.

      Castillo had many chances to stick in the major leagues before he was taken off the 40 man roster. Many chances. He simply wasn't good enough. I think it's time to stop feeling sorry for someone earning 72 million dollars.
    • LONG_GONE_JOHN 08/16/18 05:40 PM
      They’ve already got a quasi-platoon in CF when J.D. plays the OF and Benny moves to CF. You might have a point, but still, there’s the contract issue. Castillo will remain in purgatory, JBJ will stay in CF, perhaps until he’s FA eligible in 2021.
  • briand7 08/16/18 05:04 PM
    Ironic. Nothing else to say.
    • Too bad Rusney's stuck in this situation, though the $$$ heals many wounds. But the anti-union comments here are misplaced. Remember the old reserve clause which essentially enslaved players to their teams? They fought long & hard to end it, especially the great Curt Flood who sacrificed his career to help others (& avoid playing for the lowly Phillies, of course). Free agency & union representation have brought justice to MLB, albeit with higher prices & endless money issues. This really is progress overall, though the cost includes ironies like Rusney's dilemma. There should be a way to make exceptions for cases like this, but please stop union-bashing because the players' union levels the field somewhat. It's what unions do, & that's good for employees.
    • Too bad Rusney's stuck in this situation, though the $$$ heals many wounds. But the anti-union comments here are misplaced. Remember the old reserve clause which essentially enslaved players to their teams? They fought long & hard to end it, especially the great Curt Flood who sacrificed his career to help others (& avoid playing for the lowly Phillies, of course). Free agency & union representation have brought justice to MLB, albeit with higher prices & endless money issues. This really is progress overall, though the cost includes ironies like Rusney's dilemma. There should be a way to make exceptions for cases like this, but please stop union-bashing because the players' union levels the field somewhat. It's what unions do, & that's good for employees.
  • plt062 08/16/18 05:11 PM
    Bite the bullet and get him up here before it's too late. Such a dumb, convoluted system/contract. Why give him all that money to stay in Pawtucket & not contribute? What a waste.
    • khannag 08/16/18 05:26 PM
      Because you'd be paying even more money for contributions you can get cheaper.
    • Johnny Quest 08/16/18 05:42 PM
      What outfielder do they get rid of in order to make room for him? He's not better than anyone they have playing outfield right now. Not even close.

      He was given chances. He was handed a starting outfield spot before. It didn't work out.
  • jbustabad 08/16/18 05:54 PM
    I credit him for staying in shape and trying to make it up to the majors. Doesn’ t seem like he should get accolades for that, but I could see a person in his position just lazin away.

    Meanwhile, no bad news about Sale’s shoulder.
  • AbbyEeyore 08/16/18 06:11 PM
    This seems like a pointless piece from Alex. We all - or most of us anyway - know the situation and it's not going to change.
  • commgdn2 08/16/18 06:16 PM
    Lee Lee Clear Clear Lee Rider Rider Clear Lee Lee Rider Blue Rider Clear Blue Blue Blue Just bring him up in September and John Henry pay the stinking tax. You can't take it with you when your times up.
    • SoxFanInIL 08/16/18 11:41 PM
      Since you are so good at spending others' money, maybe you should pay the tax.

      Not one dime John Henry.
    • commgdn2 08/17/18 09:27 AM
      Sox Fan, Sorta like having a tax cut during a time of war and paying for that war with borrowed money. That's when you don't mind spending "other people's money".
      You have no idea what you are talking about, just repeating slogans. John Henry and the Red Sox have a cash cow.
  • Cyclops55 08/16/18 06:16 PM
    Another Cherington boo-boo.
  • Misft137 08/16/18 11:17 PM
    The people commenting on this and saying he should be be brought up to the MLB club are mental. There's no way you have any understanding of the Sox roster and financial situation if you think Castillo should be brought up. That would be the dumbest move of Dombrowski's career.
    • commgdn2 08/17/18 09:28 AM
      You know this because?
  • verminte 08/17/18 02:55 AM
    Changing gears here a bit, interesting note about Bobby Dalbec. Guy is hitting .341/.404/.780 at Portland, and then we get mention of his strikeout rate of 30-something percent. You know, with that line, I don't care if the guy is striking out 60% of the time. He's doing something right.

    Send Devers down for some badly needed polishing, and give Dalbec some bigtime PA's with the big club.
  • These series of columns about Castillo first by Nick Cafardo and now Alex Speier are missing the point. Ben Cherington paid way too much to sign Rusney. If he was as good as claimed wouldn't some major league team bite the bullet and pay him the $10 Million. Bottom line answer he isn't that good, and he is 31 and it has taken him four years to achieve AAA respectability. The salary is the elephant in the room. No major league team is going to pay him that kind of money. He might be burning up the International League, but his MLB stats are pretty abysmal. He has played 99 games with a .263 BA, 7 HRs, 35 RBI and an OPS of .679. Bill James the analytics guru classifies Rusney's MLB OPS as Below Average. Please no more Rusney Castillo should be in the Majors columns. For $10 M bucks, I would venture to say all of us would happily make the drive from Boston to Rhode Island.
  • user_3496880 08/17/18 05:54 AM
    Dont you think he would have signed to play a game for so many millions, even if he knew what the situation would be? WAKE UP YOU NARROW MINDED TOOLS!
  • PumpsieGreen54 08/17/18 07:20 AM
    The money's gone; we're paying the whole cost of his contract.
    But he's 31. Release him (should've last winter) and let him see if he can get a job elsewhere.
    I shed no tears for him but there's no chance he'll play in Boston. We should let him have a chance to play somewhere else.
  • soxfansince1957 08/17/18 07:44 AM
    Believe Alex here. I have been watching Rusney carefully for the last several years when the PawSox have come into Allentown and been very impressed with his improvement. When he began, he could not recognize pitches, and looked fast in the outfield, but took some bad routes to the ball. Each year he has improved. I thought he was ready to play AAAA ball in the lower majors last year. Now, he looks like he could play in Fenway, except for the fact that we have four All Star caliber outfielders. I say look for a chance next year to bring him up, showcase his skills, and trade him mid-season for a more experienced player. It's not like we have a wealth of prospects in the minors right now to trade for real help.
  • Eyeshooter 08/17/18 07:59 AM
    C'mon people...Sure, in the best of all worlds, Rusney would be allowed out of his contract, be promoted or released. Most here agree with that. However, under current rules, bringing him up now means the Sox pay the $26 mil salary over the next 2 years, $10mil in tax, AND it counts against the luxury tax until 2020. The salary $$ are lost, however there is only so much money, and personally, I believe tax and penalty money that would be incurred by bringing hm up is better spent keeping Betts, Sale, Bogaerts, etc than a 4th outfielder who will at best be platooned.
  • Dave 41 08/17/18 08:31 AM
    Looks like no available solution will work, but both sides should look for a way to modify the rules going forward. This is a ridiculous situation.
    • MrTattieHeid 08/17/18 08:54 AM
      Read the story. "MLB and the Players’ Association closed that loophole in the most recent collective bargaining agreement."
    • MrTattieHeid 08/17/18 08:56 AM
      And in fact that's part of the problem--if they bring him up for a day, they can't hide him again.
  • tylerdrew7 08/17/18 09:07 AM
    The union didn't want the luxury tax, the socialist owners wanted it, but union haters don't care about that. It was the SMALL market owners who wanted a socialist system of taxing the rich owners like Henry...don't let facts get in the way SOX-FAN-INIL
  • TexasBogger 08/17/18 11:38 AM
    We'll pay you 73 Mil to be a career minor-leaguer. Insanity.

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