Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nationals sign Rusney Castillo, former Red Sox outfielder and coveted international free-agent signing

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The Washington Nationals have signed veteran outfielder Rusney Castillo to a minor-league deal, according to the club’s transactions log. (Chris Cotillo of was the first to notice.) Castillo, 34 years old, is a familiar name thanks to a failed stint with the Boston Red Sox

Castillo was granted free agency by Major League Baseball during the summer of 2014 after several attempts to defect from his native Cuba. He agreed to a seven-year pact with the Red Sox that August, with the contract guaranteeing him $72 million. Castillo was well regarded by scouts at the time, as Baseball America ranked him as the 15th-best prospect in the game entering the 2015 season. Their report read, in part:

Castillo checks a lot of boxes. He has a big swing that permits him to generate above-average raw power (with perhaps 20-home run potential) yet he has the hand-eye coordination to limit his swings and misses, even with an aggressive approach. He also showed the ability to learn and adjust, implementing a leg kick as a timing mechanism in September that paid immediate dividends with a pair of homers. Defensively, he runs strong routes and shows the speed to have above-average range.

Castillo made his big-league debut a month after signing, but he would go on to appear in just 99 games in the majors over the ensuing three seasons. In those contests, he hit .262/.301/.379 (82 OPS+) with seven home runs and seven stolen bases. His contributions were estimated to be worth 1.6 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference’s calculations.

The Red Sox removed Castillo from their 40-player roster in the summer of 2016, sending him outright to Triple-A Pawtucket. He would remain in Pawtucket until his contract elapsed during the pandemic — not because he wasn’t a productive minor-league player, but because keeping him away from the big-league roster allowed the Red Sox to forego including his salary in their luxury-tax calculations. 

Castillo spent the 2021 campaign overseas, playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. He batted .225/.276/.282 in 33 games with the Golden Eagles.

It seems unlikely that Castillo will contend for a spot on the Nationals Opening Day roster.

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