Justifying the Phillies Entering a Bidding War for Cuban OF Rusney Castillo


Aside from how poorly the team has been run the last five years, the Phillies picked a pad time in the grand spectrum of baseball to become a ‘big market’ team. Teams are locking up young talent before they hit free agency which forces teams like the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox to cultivate their own top-end players rather than allow other teams to cultivate such targets for them. Free agency is still a favorable option as far as fleshing out a contending roster, but it is no longer a dependable way to replenish ‘elite’ talent.

Taking place of free agency acquisitions from other teams in Major League Baseball is the emergence of International prospects and the bidding wars that go along with it. The notorious competitions for players like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish, and Yasiel Puig (among others) has become perhaps the only option for teams trying to bring in franchise-changing players.

Despite the influx of such players, the Phillies have remained notoriously absent when it comes to the candidates to sign such talent. Every season it seems that these players are making a larger impact on the game and, as they project to be on so many other levels, the Phillies are behind the curve. They nearly made one of the all-time blunder acquisitions of international talent last season when they had reportedly agreed to a 6-year/$48 million deal with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Gonzalez was nowhere close to the quality player worthy of anything close to that deal. Between a recovering shoulder and a generally overperceived talent-level, one could argue that he is still a overpayment at the adjusted 3-year/$12 million contract he officially signed to.

In recent weeks, the biggest name on the international market is Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo. The 27-year-old defector held a workout in Miami with 28 MLB teams in attendance as a showcase for a deal that could end up rivaling Yasiel Puig’s 7-year/$42 million agreement with the Dodgers. At the time, many questioned Los Angeles management for committing that number to an unproven commodity. Looking back on it, headaches aside, Puig might be one of the best deals in baseball.

Castillo is a different kind of player than Puig. At 5’9″, 205 pounds with exceptional speed; many project Castillo as a leadoff hitter with pop. Considering the Phillies dearth at every level as far as outfield talent goes, Castillo seems like a perfect fit. Here are some highlights of his showcase workout on the University of Miami campus.

One cannot ignore what an impressive physical specimen Castillo is. His body reminds me of Brandon Boykin as far as a great deal of muscle packed into a short frame. There’s no doubt that there is risk involved whenever scouting international talent. That being said, this seems like the ideal player for the Phillies to target. The fact that the team is bringing him in for a private workout bodes well for them being a serious contender when the Cuban ultimately makes his decision.

As it stands, the Phillies are one of four teams slated to hold a private session with the outfielder. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles are the other three, for now. Depending on what the Phillies plan to have on the books entering next season, they should be in a position where they can match or surpass any other offer for the winning bid. The dilemma facing Ruben Amaro Jr. (or whomever is calling the shots in that circus) is whether or not they want to pay premium money for the type of player they have avoided in the past. Castillo may end up choosing another location for any number of reasons. The Phillies cannot allow that reason to be because they wouldn’t pony up the dough to compete with the Yankees or Red Sox.

Acquisitions like Castillo are what teams need to avoid complete rebuilds. The Phillies have made it clear that they do not want to gut the team and build up from the bottom. At this point, considering the likely return they would get for their tradable assets, that might be the necessary path. There will be no franchise-saving player on the free agent market this offseason and the Phillies don’t have any prospects ready to make a serious impact at the MLB level. Regardless of how the roster looks after the upcoming trade deadline, adding a potential talent like Castillo will take the sting off of what is turning out to be the worst Phillies season in over a decade.

At some point, the Phillies need to land one of the top international players on the market. It has become the last major ‘weapon’ of the big market teams that maintains a level of distance between them and midmarket teams who are unable to throw the type of dollars at these high-risk players like the Bostons, New Yorks, and Chicagos can. It will be interesting to keep tabs on the potential courtship of Castillo and which teams end up dueling one another for his services. He might end up just really liking the city of Boston or New York, which would make things difficult for the Phillies. If it is a matter of dollars and cents, however, the Phillies losing out would be another massive failure for a front office notorious for them.