It's no secret that the Red Sox have been targeting a major international acquisition for years, as the club narrowly missed out on landing Jose Abreu last year. Now, it appears that Boston's wishes have finally been fulfilled, as the club handed 27-year-old Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo a record seven-year, $72 million deal earlier today. While the contract is structured as a seven-year deal, it is really only for six years, as Castillo will earn the prorated version of the league minimum this season. By doing so, the luxury tax hit on Castillo's contract is lessened from $12 million to just over $10 million annually.
An elite athlete, Castillo doesn't possess the same upside as fellow countrymen such as Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig, and there is quite a bit of controversy over his ultimate role. Per Baseball America's Ben Badler, some scouts view Castillo as a fourth outfielder, while others see him as a potential everyday center fielder. The Red Sox clearly fall in the latter camp.
Paying $12 million a year for Castillo is a gamble, but it could pay off tremendously. As Fangraphs' Dave Cameron suggests based on Castillo's tools profile, his floor may be that of Rajai Davis, and while a player of Davis' caliber is certainly not someone you would want to be paying $12 million annually to, Castillo only has to be a +2 WAR player to satisfy his salary. Some scouts have even noted his upside as Brett Gardner with more power, and at $72 million, that player is a coup. The Red Sox are also signing Castillo for his age 28 through 33 seasons, so they should essentially be getting his prime.
While Castillo's contract represents a massive investment for the Red Sox, it does help that they have just two other players (Dustin Pedroia and Allen Craig) under guaranteed contracts past next season, so Castillo's signing shouldn't play a role in Boston's free agent expenditures in the coming offseasons.
As for the immediate ramifications of Castillo's signing, it is possible that he makes his way into Boston's lineup at some point before the end of the season. However, he has yet to obtain a work visa, and most view him as needing some time in the minors anyways, just to catch up on facing live pitching. Still, he's essentially big league ready, and is likely to factor into Boston's plans out of the gate next season.
Adding Castillo does create quite a logjam for the Red Sox, who now have Castillo, Craig, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all as outfield options for next season. While this may very well sort itself out, that is quite a few players capable of holding down everyday jobs seeking playing time.
As Marc Normandin points out at Over the Monster, Victorino is often hurt, and is probably better served getting a few hundred plate appearances rather than a full season's worth. Craig is also injury-prone, and will need to hit to play, regardless. If Craig does hit, his situation should sort itself out, as he will be worth playing in the outfield next season, and could then slide over to first base once Mike Napoli leaves in 2016.
Nava is more of a platoon player, and could serve as trade bait. Bradley has yet to hit in the majors, and while he is a real asset on defense, he won't ever be viewed as a long-term option unless his bat starts to come alive. Betts has enormous potential, but the Red Sox could always stash him at Triple-A to start 2015, bringing him up when the need arises. Lastly, Yoenis Cespedes is a clear starter in 2015, though he will be a free agent following the season, and it's currently unclear if the Red Sox view him as somebody worth locking up to a lengthy extension.
So, maybe Boston's logjam isn't all that it's cracked up to be. The Red Sox are likely to enter next season (barring any further moves) with an outfield composition of something like Craig in left, Castillo in center, and Cespedes in right. That's pretty good. And after next season, Betts can move into the fold, while Craig possibly moves to first, and Cespedes may or may not still be around.
Of course, the real benefit of their logjam is the flexibility it brings the Red Sox in trades. As it stands, the Red Sox' 2015 rotation isn't very exciting, as Clay Buchholz has been horrible this season, many others have faltered, and Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, and John Lackey have all been sent out of town. Boston figures to be key players in this winter's market for high-priced starting pitchers, possibly bringing back Lester, while James Shields and Max Scherzer should also draw considerable attention from the organization. Still, adding one of those three starters isn't going to fix their rotation for next season, and that's likely where a trade comes in.
The other beneficiaries of Castillo's signing are future international free agents. As noted above, Castillo isn't exactly at the same talent level as Abreu, yet he exceeded his contract in terms of total value, setting an new record for Cuban free agents. He's also older than Abreu, Puig, and Cespedes were at the time of their signings, demonstrating that even older, non-elite Cuban players have robust markets for their services. With the recent contracts given out to Abreu, Masahiro Tanaka, and now Castillo, it's a good time to be coming in from overseas.