The Boston Red Sox didn’t spend the money to keep Jacoby Ellsbury, apparently made the same decision with Stephen Drew and Jon Lester, and got burned this year by the decision to go full-speed ahead with youngsters like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., whose star fell so far that he’s at Coca-Cola Field this weekend with Pawtucket. They’ve gone from chumps to champs and back to chumps again. With Fenway Park full every night at very high prices, shouldn’t they be acting like a large-market team?
That was a big question all of New England had been trying to answer this season. Looks like the Sox answered it pretty resoundingly Friday with the $72 million deal given to Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who will join fellow defector Yoenis Cespedes in the Boston outfield sooner rather than later. Castillo’s deal is for the remainder of this year and for the next six. He took his physical on Saturday.
There aren’t a lot of great free-agent center fielders coming this winter (Colby Rasmus, anyone?). So the Sox went this route for instant help and the comparisons show they Paid with a Capital P for the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Castillo compared to other Cubans. Cespedes got $36 million for four years from Oakland. For his seven-year deal, Yasiel Puig got $42 million. Only the White Sox came close, handing slugger Jose Abreu a six-year, $68-million contract last year.
Castillo is 27, older than his contemporaries. But that has the Sox thinking he’ll be even more ready to go than the others. Puig, remember, got called up to the big leagues from a stint in Double-A.
There’s a bit of circumvention going on here as well. Most Cubans are exempts from the bonus caps on international signings. If you’re a team like the Red Sox with television money and ballpark revenue to burn, this is a good place to look. Castillo will get plugged into center field but has some experience in the infield as well. He has power and can run well to steal bases, although scouting reports discuss an average arm and not the rocket-type we’ve seen from Puig or Cespedes.
Pretty much every team in baseball scouted Castillo, with most attending a private workout in Florida late last month. WEEI Radio in Boston, the Red Sox flagship station, reported the team had another workout for Castillo on his own Aug. 1 at Boston’s spring training complex in Fort Myers. The Sox and Detroit Tigers were the final two teams bidding for Castillo’s services until his agent, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, told Detroit it was out. Roc Nation, remember, also negotiated Robinson Cano’s $240 million deal with Seattle last winter.
Time will tell if the Red Sox got a bargain. They almost got Abreu last year and worked hard to get Castillo. The Yankees paid Ellsbury $153 million. Maybe we’ll see that the Sox know best.
Viva Las Vegas
Manager Wally Backman’s Las Vegas 51s clinched their second straight Pacific Coast League division title Thursday, becoming the first Triple-A team to wrap up a postseason spot. So expect plenty of Mets fans gloating over the fact the Bisons dumped the Amazins just as their system was “flourishing” at Triple-A.
The 51s also won their division last year but were eliminated in the PCL playoffs. Keep in mind that the Bisons were off to a good start under Backman in 2012 as well before injuries in New York led to numerous callups and a 67-76 finish. Backman was steadfast all summer that Buffalo team had playoff potential if it had been able to stay together. We don’t know how the Bisons’ playoff push will end this year, but we know the Blue Jays will have put back-to-back winning teams in Buffalo for the first time since the Indians did in 2006-2007.
For what seems to be the 700th time, I remind you that you absolutely cannot say the Bisons would have been in the playoffs had they simply stayed with the Mets. First off, the Mets were goner after ‘12 because the fan base had already voted with its feet. That season marked the lowest attendance average in Coca-Cola Field history and last year’s inaugural year with Toronto produced an increase of about 900 fans per game - a pretty huge jump of around 11 percent.
Secondly, the PCL is a different league and you’re playing against different major-league affiliates in different parks and often in high-altitude conditions. You have no idea what free agents will sign where, based on players from the West perhaps being more interested in going to Las Vegas and players from the East looking a team with an affiliate in Buffalo.
Memo to the folks in Flushing: The whole you-would-have-been-in-the-playoffs narrative is apples to oranges. Can it.
Paying the bills
I’ll be interested to see the Bisons’ future plans for Coca-Cola Field. And to see fans’ reaction. I was floored by the number of comments I got questioning why the city was paying the $758,000 bill for Phase I of the seating, given that the Bisons have already paid more than $23 million for a variety of improvements to the park over the years that includes both video boards the park has utilized.
Cities, counties and states contribute to ballparks and arenas all over the country all the time. They did at First Niagara Center and Ralph Wilson Stadium and will with any new Bills stadium. But the Bisons, the one franchise with prices low enough where parents can actually take a bunch of kids to a game, are supposed to pay their whole bill themselves? That’s goofy thinking. Someone explain it to me.
More Herd grapevine
• Some sharp eyes quickly asked this corner why the Bisons’ 2015 schedule included a June 11 doubleheader vs. Charlotte, then games on June 13-14 against the Knights but an unheard-of Friday night off.
A team spokesman would only say the team is planning a “baseball-related event” for that day. Rules of the collective bargaining agreement prevent parent clubs from playing in-season exhibitions any more, so it’s not a Blue Jays visit. The bet here is some sort of oldtimers’ game like we’ve seen in the past. They’ve always been popular.
• The new schedule matrix for next year will provide better travel for teams and more even distribution of weekend and summer dates. But I absolutely hate an uneven number of games against teams within the division. Increasing it from 16 is fine but not playing every team the same amount could really create some ugly inequities.
• Bisons fans poured downtown for Friday night’s game and will likely do it again today, Monday and Tuesday night for Fan Appreciation Night featuring another start by Daniel Norris. The common sense approach: Don’t show up at the windows to buy or pick up at will call 15 minutes before the first pitch. Get there early, come down on the lunch hour on a weekday or print at home. You’ll avoid the lines.
Around the horn
• We’re a hockey-mad town and everyone knows it. Want a goofy example? At the Bisons’ Mystery Ball trading station Thursday night, a fan traded a signed Roberto Alomar baseball - a Hall of Famer, remember - for a signed Sam Reinhart. Great potential but the kid hasn’t played an NHL game.
• When the Indians traded Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals on deadline day and released pitcher Frank Herrmann, it left them with just one remaining player who appeared with their organization in Buffalo. That’s pitcher Josh Tomlin, who won his only appearance for the Herd by pitching seven innings in a 4-3 win over Rochester on June 3, 2008.
• Former Canisius College pitcher Rohn Pierce, a Lockport native who played at Newfane, was named Pitcher of the Week in the Class A Appalachian League after posting three wins and tossing 8∑ scoreless innings of relief for Pulaski (Va.) in the Mariners chain.
A 19th-round pick out of Canisius in June, Pierce entered the weekend with a a 12∏-inning scoreless streak covering all five of his August outings and was 5-1, 3.08 for the season. Despite working exclusively out of the bullpen for Pulaski, the 21-year-old right-hander was tied for second in the league in wins and fourth among relievers in strikeouts (49).