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Monday's Starting Nine: Rusney Castillo Stacking Paper

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Rusney Castillo got paid - big time. How would Astros' fans feel if Houston had dropped that kind of coin on an international free agent?

Dennis Grombkowski

Rusney Castillo is the latest international free agent sensation to be paid big bucks to come contribute almost immediately to a major league squad. The Boston Red Sox ended up winning the bidding war by signing the 27-year old Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract.

Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish have made their respective clubs look pretty darn intelligent for opening up the checkbook. But many forget the money shelled out for average to below average production from guys like Jose Contreras, Kosuke Fukudome and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

It appears that he has the tools to be something a solid MLB player, but that sure is a lot of money for someone who hasn't played in an MLB game.

With all of that being said, here's today's Starting Nine:

Did Rusney Castillo receive too much, too little or was his contract just right? What would your thoughts have been if the Astros had signed Castillo to the same contract?

Matthew Hall

I imagine Boston overpaid in a 'SABR/spreadsheet' sense. I assume that the $/expected WAR guesses will generally come out on the high side.

But, in an odd way, Boston doesn't overpay. The value of a dollar is different for them than it is for the Astros. Some of their investments turn out better than others but they believe in taking risks. Never up, never in. Being able to waste money on risky contracts on a regular basis is a great problem to have.

Additionally, I would be careful about comparing this to the Abreu contract. It might turn out that it makes more sense to say Abreu was underpaid.

Emotionally, I would have loved the signing were the Astros to have pulled it off. But logically I would have been worried I assume. I can't really know, though: we don't live in that parallel universe in which the Astros outbid the Red Sox for Cubans.

Alex Goodwin

I know Red Sox fans, and I can say this about (some) of them: They want as many World Series rings as they can get. If they think this guy will help them win one in the next couple years, they're totally on board. And really, it's not like it's a huge contract. The AAV is about $10M, which isn't a lot for a loaded team like Boston. The contract was just about right for him. If he underperforms, it is what it is, but Boston took a calculated risk that really isn't too risky for them.

Personally, I think if the Astros had made this move, I would also be happy. Do I think the FO values him at that? No, I don't. Do I think less years would have been a better idea? Yes, I do. But a move for a player who seems as MLB-ready for him is something the Astros need to do. They didn't blow it, per se, but I would have been a fan of the move if we had done it.

Clack

Yes, I think it is an overpay. I'm not unhappy that the Astros didn't acquire him at that contract. The total dollar amount is more than I would want the Astros to pay for a player with his skills and profile. Also, his contract has an opt out clause allowing him to become a free agent in 2019; so, if he is better than his salary, the contract length won't help the signing team, and if he is a bust, the contract length is a detriment. He is a good OF defender with a weak arm, who may end up playing LF if he can't hack it in CF. He is not a power hitter, and profiles as a line drive type hitter. Some scouts view him as a 4th outfielder type and others view him as a solid starter. He really is not in the same class as Cespedes, Puig, and Abreu, which is something that bothers me, since he is getting paid more than them. I think the A's, Dodgers, and White Sox got the cream of the crop in what turned out to be bargains from Cuba. The Astros have Marisnick and Grossman under team control and a cheaper price, and they appear to be a similar type player.

Brian Stevenson

Sticking strictly to the question's somewhat-vague wording, yes, I think he received too much. I say that because I look at this deal in a specific way from a specific standpoint, I.E. the implications for me, as an Astros fan. Just in general, regardless of that standpoint, the AAV isn't anything to be upset about, and the Red Sox aren't going to be crippled if he doesn't pan out because of their ridiculously-high payroll capabilities, and you have to imagine it can only be a benefit for Castillo to spend time with fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes.

With all that said, from my standpoint as an Astros fan, this is a bad deal, because I don't like the presedence. I don't like seeing guys who have never played a single second of, not just Major League baseball, but even professional baseball in the USA, getting $70 million in guaranteed money. As an Astros fan, that selfishly bothers me because it's far to great a risk and it's one my team isn't likely to ever make. When you set the bar at that level for a guy of this talent level, you make it extremely difficult for a large segment of MLB teams to compete in that market. It's just another example of MLB's market and payroll inequality that Bud Selig hasn't done enough to fix during his tenure. Let's hope our new commissioner can do some more about it, though it's not likely.

Chris Perry

In 2004, Kazuo Matsui signed from Japan for 3 years $20 million. At the time, the average baseball salary was $2,500,000, a figure inflated by super-contracts handed out to players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Delgado, and others (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/highest-paid-players/). From 2004 to 2006, Matsui was worth 0.5 WAR total, which would have placed him 228th-best among qualified batters...had he even qualified after missing almost all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

IFA spending has gotten worse. Castillo is a short player with limited tools, and many scouts peg him as a fourth outfielder with "occasional" power (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/red-sox-sign-rusney-castillo/), who is being compared to Rajai Davis. If I'm shelling out $70+ million for a baseball player who has played zero games in an American professional league, he should come with better accolades than that, and with a less-mixed reaction. Especially if that player is 27 years old, an age when typical batters begin the "leveling out" (at best) or "decline" phases of their careers. Castillo is older than Puig by four years and older than Cespedes was during his first MLB year and is more expensive than either of them.

Even if there's a chance Castillo can be worth the money (which I doubt), it's still not worth the risk for a club like the Astros that is taking a measured approach to lineup building. This signing seems to be a reaction to the Abreu, Puig, and Cespedes signings, which is the worst way to make a financial decision. In the glimmers of shiny Abreus and Puigs, people ignore that Erisbel Arruebarruena is being paid $25 million to stink for the Dodgers and Alexander Guerrero is being paid $28 million to play in AAA as a 27-year-old. When we look back on this period of nearly-indiscriminate spending on Cuban and Japanese IFA's, I suspect there will be far more Kaz Matsuis than Hideki Matsuis, and that by-and-large these huge contracts will be derided as wasteful and short-sighted.

David Coleman

I'm not sure if we're supposed to acknowledge anyone else's answer here, but I completely agree with clack. The money being spent on these Cuban free agents will not look good in five years. Castillo shouldn't have gotten as much as he did for the sort of player he will be. Everyone is looking for the next Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes, but will end up with many more busts for the effort.

The point isn't whether teams are being irresponsible with their money. The point is that teams have so much cash from streams pouring into the sport, but have very few areas where they can spend uninhibitedly. Free agency is one, but there are plenty of reasons why uncontrolled FA spending doesn't benefit teams. In the past, there was a way to spend big in international free agency or the draft, but with the new pools and caps on both of those areas, teams are again limited.

So, they're left with these two outlets. International free agents from Cuba or Japan, who have played at a pretty high level, but who are older than the average prospect. These players are still younger than the average free agent, but have little major league track record. They're a gamble, but what else can teams do with all this money?

This is the first year of MLB's mammoth national TV deal, worth $12.4 billion over the next eight years. That money is distributed equally among the 30 teams. I'll do the math for you. That's about $1.5 billion per year on the deal, distributed equally among all 30 teams and assuming some of that money stays with MLB, and each team should receive about $50 million a season.

That's not counting the $600 million or so MLB Advanced media brings into the sport each year, which could add another $15 million or so into that pool. Oh, and it also doesn't count any local or regional sports network deals, nor does it include ticket revenue, sponsorships and the like. It also doesn't account for any of the other revenue sharing money divided up between the teams, possible revenue from tax-paying teams or other streams of income. Is it crazy to suggest that MLB teams could be getting $75 million in revenue just from the league each season?

If that's the case, Castillo's deal could be paid for in one lump sum. Teams could just pocket that money and be done with it, making a tidy profit for the ownership and paying down debt service. Or, teams like the Red Sox could realize that the only way to stay insanely profitable is to continue to be good and in the hunt for the World Series. So, they acquire talent any way they can. If that means spending too much money on the only free sources of young(ish) baseball talent around, so be it.

Perry Mattern

It's most definitely an overpay, but probably one created by the other suitors in the race. The Red Sox still occasionally make moves to appease the fan base and the struggles of 2014 had to have a big part in how much they ended up spending on Castillo.

Would it get Astros' fans excited? There's no doubt. But once again, and it always comes back to this with the Astros front office. They make the right (and mostly safe) moves to get this team back into contention. Dishing out $70 million to unproven commodity is an irresponsible move. Although Jeff Luhnow has consistently made the unsexy move, he's making the right ones. One player will not cure all, but if Castillo fails on a contract like this, it can fracture the rebuilding process for a team.

Ernie Breakfast

The international free agent market is one of the few places where a team can freely spend to their hearts content. The biggest downfall is that no one has ever seen how these players will look against MLB competition, unlike domestic free agents which have some sort of track record. At this point in time Cuban players seem like one of the best values in all of baseball, so the contracts have continued to be high. But all good things come to an end, and at some point one team is going to be left holding the bag on a Cuban player that is not worth what he signed for.

I think the question of high/low/just right on Rusney Castillo's contract can't be answered until he shows what he can do once he starts playing. Looking back you could say that Abreu's contract was an awesome deal for Chicago, but at the time no one could have seen how well he was going to do, they could only project what they thought he would do. As far as the Astros are concerned, I would have liked to see us sign him, but not at the price he eventually signed for. With as little as the team has spent in free agency over the past few years, I would rather see some major league bonafides for that price.

Idrees Tily

I don't mind the dollar value of the contract at all, I think that is market value at the moment. The only thing about the contract that would cause me to hesitate and ultimately say no is the opt-out clause. That was my biggest criticism of Tanaka's massive contract. In both cases, the Yankees and Red Sox take all the financial risk, but the respective players get the flexibility. But ignoring the opt-out clause for the sake of argument, I am surprised to see the consensus that $72.5M for 7 years is too much. That AAV of just over $10M seems reasonable, given the inflated market. I'm also finding a disconnect between my much more knowledgeable SABR folks. I basically freaked out when I saw 30M for 3 years for Feldman. But after taking the group's feedback, and understanding that it boils down to asking Feldman to be a 2 WAR player each season, I understood the rationale behind it. I personally still would not have offered that if I was the Astros, but I could appreciate the logic behind it.

So if we could justify and even be excited about Feldman getting an AAV of $10M, why can't Rusney Castillo outplay that? I have read reports that his defense is above-average, so that would make achieving 2 WAR seasons easier for him. Given those two options, I rather spend $10M a year on Castillo, who has done absolutely nothing at the big league level, but who is in his prime and has the potential to be an impact player in the outfield, over a solid-yet-unspectacular and older Feldman.

It is risky, I'll readily admit that. But all free agent signings come with risk. I rather invest in an international free agent with his prime years in front of him, as opposed to an older domestic free agent, who obtain their huge contracts for what they have done in the past as opposed to what they will do for you in the future. But domestic free agents come with more past performance and success, which should lower their theoretical risk. But as they are often older, my opinion is that the age difference outweighs their past performance.

I think the Astros really want to make a splash with a big international free agent (hence their aggressive pursuit of Jose Abreu and even Tanaka), but I also think that the Astros are being selective. I am going to throw 3 names out there to keep an eye out on: Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, and Cuban hitters Yasmani Tomas and Yoan Moncada. Maeda is no ace, but could still be an effective pitcher, and an overall asset in a 5 man rotation. That could also lower his acquisition cost to a point where it makes more financial sense to sign him. Tomas will probably be limited to LF, but has huge raw power. He probably comes with the most risk, but tremendous upside as well. A power-hitting LF also seems like a great match for the current big league roster. Lastly, Moncada is a kid that I am just reading up on, but seems to be very intriguing. He is a 19 year old switch-hitting infielder with exciting tools. In fact Baseball America states that if he were eligible for the 2015 draft, he would be in consideration for being the top overall pick. This is where the scouting team and the [hopefully] more accurate projection systems the Astros have in place can really shine. We have to be higher on a player than every single other team, and be willing to put our money where our mouth is with a big bid. The thing is; these 3 signings will probably have similar opt-out clauses. That makes their valuation much more tricky. And I think if the Astros really want to make a splash, you basically have to ignore logic and your valuation systems, and just flat out overpay. I am not even sure I could do that, let alone the very methodical Houston Astros.