The next big Cuban player to sign is likely to be outfielder Rusney Castillo, a 27-year-old bowling ball (5’9″, 200 lbs) whose future role is still hard to grasp – impact starter? super utility type? mere 4th/5th outfielder? In the end, talent is talent, and the rest sorts itself out.
Castillo is now officially completely eligible to sign with any MLB team, and he’ll hold a showcase in Miami next Saturday for interested teams before signing. Based on his age, his availability (costs just money), and position (outfield), there is a superficial fit with the Cubs (and about 20 other teams). Castillo has some pop, has plus-plus speed, and is viewed by some as a starting-caliber center fielder at the big league level. Ben Badler has more, including more video, on Castillo here.
The Cubs have saved money recently for this type of signing, and it really just comes down to two things: (1) How well do the Cubs’ scouts like Castillo? and (2) How crazy does the bidding get?
There’s a 2(a) to that second one: does the timing of his availability impact the craziness? If teams believe Castillo is ready to go and to impact a pennant race, then the teams in a race will theoretically be able and willing to spend those extra, incremental dollars on Castillo that a team like the Cubs arguably shouldn’t spend (that is to say: from a pure valuation perspective, if teams were valuing Castillo perfectly, he’s worth more to other teams than to the Cubs). However, you have to remember that we’re talking about six years of control, potentially, and one playoff race may not appreciably distort the signing price such that teams like the Cubs are excluded. (Note: because of his age and experience in Cuba, Castillo is not subject to any international signing restrictions. He’s just a straight-up free agent.)
Don’t forget: big-time 23-year-old Cuban power bat Yasmani Tomas is looming, and it could be that the Cubs would prefer to save their chips for him. It certainly seems like there is more long-term impact potential there, even if there is more risk. (Of course, as is frequently the case with Cuban players, because of limited scouting looks and the level of competition there, we don’t always have a good sense of how teams view these guys until after they sign (and even then, it’s often widely varied – one team (not the Cubs) infamously put a $500 to $1 million valuation on Yasiel Puig before he signed with the Dodgers for $42 million). Tomas is not yet a free agent.
For now, all eyes will be on Castillo next Saturday, July 26.