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Touching All the Bases

If Rusney Castillo Becomes the Player the Red Sox Believe He Will, His Contract Will Be a Steal


Soon enough, we'll see Rusney Castillo play actual baseball, perhaps initially as a potential ringer during the PawSox and Sea Dogs' playoff runs, and then as one beacon among the dwindling reasons to watch the Red Sox in September.

In the interim, our Rusney Reports on the Red Sox' intriguing new $72.5 million center fielder are more about his itineraries and interactions as he shakes off the rust in Ft. Myers than about what he might provide as a ballplayer.

We've heard all of the consensuses and contradictions of his skill-set -- game-changing speed, budding power, various differing evaluations of his patience, arm and defensive prowess. Now we can't wait to see him, to start to make our own judgments.

Castillo's first official at-bat in pro ball will occur soon, but it has not happened yet. And yet this much we already know about him as a player: if he's anything close to what the Red Sox think he is, his contract -- 6-plus years for that $72.5 mil -- will be an absolute steal for the franchise.

I spelled out in a previous column how the common comparisons to Shane Victorino (worth $28.1 million to the '13 Red Sox alone, per Fangraphs' win value model) and Brett Gardner (worth $18.7 million so far to the '14 Yankees) indicate that the Red Sox have a bargain if Castillo fulfills -- or even approaches -- their production.

That Rajai Davis comp? Well, then, if that's the player Castillo mirrors, it's not going to be such a bargain. But we're optimists here. If you trust the Red Sox' player evaluation -- and I do, despite some curious twists this year -- it's not hard to imagine Castillo, even sight unseen in an actual stateside ballgame so far, will exceed Rajai Davis.

Here's another unscientific but bleepin' fun way to examine his potential value: Punch in some numbers to baseball-reference.com's life-altering Play Index based on various levels of expectation for Castillo to find players who had seasons that met that criteria. Then take a look at Fangraphs again to see how valuable in cold, hard $$$ that player was during that particular season.

Make sense? Probably not. I'm so bad at explaining this stuff, especially for an alleged writer. But it will after we run through it a couple of times. Let's try this: here is the first set of parameters I punched into the Play Index:

I searched for center fielder from 1994-2014 who hit 12 or fewer homers, stole 20 or fewer bases, and hit no higher than .275 in a particular season.

That's obviously going to give a long list of names, so I pared it down to three who were roughly Castillo's age and made me say, "Hmm, that's a good comp right there." Did I cherry-pick to some degree? Yep. My prerogative.

The value of each of those players in the given season?

Jackson '13: $15.6 million.

Fowler '13: $10.7 million

Jennings '14: $17 million.

Now let's raise the standards of production. Here are center fielders since 1994 who have had a season with 20 or fewer homers, 25 or fewer steals, and a batting average below .285. Maybe that home run number is wishful thinking for Castillo. Still, it lends us some fascinating comps.

And the values:

Brantley '13: $8.1 million (he's worth north of $25 mil this year).

Sanders '94: Actually, the win values aren't documented this far back. But he was 3.3 wins above replacement, which is roughly a $10 million player, I'd estimate.

Cameron '00: The Mariners' center fielder and Red Sox ill-fated UZR test case was a 5.5 fWAR player in '00. The next two years, he was valued at $14.4 million each season based on consecutive totals of 5.1 wins above replacement. So he was roughly worth $16 million.

Finally, just for the sport of it, here's an edition including players who called Fenway home at one point or another. The parameters here: between 10-18 homers in a season, 30 or more steals, and a batting average of at least .275:

Values for this trio:

Crawford '09: $25.2 million. He was worth $29.8 million the following year, and then minus-$800,000 during his first season with the Red Sox.

Victorino '08: $19.5 million.

Damon '02: $11.1 million.

Three parting thoughts:

1) Unless Castillo's skills have totally eroded during his baseball hiatus, the Red Sox should have a fine player at a great price based on his roughly $12 million average annual value.

2) If Shane Victorino has had six season of at least $12.8 million in value, and two above $25 million, including last season. If the Castillo/Victorino comp is accurate, the Red Sox will be giddy.

3) Wait, Carl Crawford was good once?

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