fb-pixel Skip to main content
NICK CAFARDO I SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

Just in time for the holidays, Rusney Castillo is reunited with his mom and son

Certainly it will be a very special holiday for Rusney Castillo and his family.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Who knows what angst Rusney Castillo has lived with the past three years? Oh, he’s a rich man, the Red Sox giving him a $72.5 million contract based on his unlimited potential after a successful career in Cuba.

But the last two-plus years have left doubts. Castillo, who has been taken off the 40-man roster, also has been banished to Pawtucket, becoming one of the highest-paid players in Triple A history. And he has been branded with the B-word — bust. But what if there has been a reason? What if Castillo has had to live with the fact that he had no idea when he’d reunite with his now-4-year-old son, Rusney Jr.? Or whether he’d ever see his mother, Taimi Peraza, again.

Advertisement



Last week, that angst came to an end. Attorneys Gregg Clifton and Matt Martinez of Jackson Lewis LLP in Phoenix facilitated a reunion for Castillo with his son and mother over the holidays in Florida. The attorneys were able to get a difficult-to-obtain visitor visa after they presented the case to the United States Embassy in Havana. After two long months of waiting, Castillo’s family obtained the temporary visas for this visit.

Visitor visas for Cuban citizens are not frequently granted, so this was a great win. Certainly it will be a very special holiday for Castillo and his family.

“It’s a heartwarming Christmas story,” said Clifton, who represented Tom Glavine, David Wells, Bronson Arroyo, B.J. Surhoff, and others during a long career as a player agent. “For Jackson Lewis, Matt, and me to be able to play a small role to put Rusney and his family together is just touching for all of us.”

Castillo was expected to be one of the most talented players to come out of Cuba. While the Red Sox never saw Castillo in a game before signing him, his workouts for scouts were phenomenal. It was thought by then-general manager Ben Cherington and his staff that Castillo had a great chance to become one of the top players in baseball. But Castillo’s assimilation to a new culture has been difficult. The anguish of being separated from his young son and not knowing when and if he’d be able to see him couldn’t have helped.

Advertisement



According to Clifton, Castillo’s family is only allowed to stay in this country through the holidays, but they can visit Castillo on limited stays for the next five years.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said the organization has not decided whether Castillo will be in the major league camp next spring. The Sox are in a tricky situation with Castillo in that while he’s off the 40-man roster, his money doesn’t count toward the luxury tax threshold. It is the same with veteran righthanded hitter Allen Craig, who is scheduled to make $11 million next season at Pawtucket.

The Red Sox also could cut ties with both players, though they provide coverage for the Triple A roster, with the hope that one or both could eventually help the major league team.

Castillo played five seasons for Ciego de Avila in Cuba, hitting .315. In 2010, he hit .324 with a .928 OPS with 18 home runs, 79 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases. That was the player the Red Sox thought they were getting.

The one area in which Castillo has distinguished himself in the major leagues is on defense. He is a natural center fielder who can also play the corner spots well. In 317 major league at-bats, Castillo has hit .262 with seven homers, 35 RBIs, and a .679 OPS.

Advertisement



In spring training last season, Castillo was thought to be Boston’s starting left fielder. But he soon lost that job when he didn’t perform.

The prevailing opinion among many in the Red Sox organization, and some outside of it, is that Castillo needs a change of scenery and a fresh start. Whether the Red Sox attempt to move Castillo remains to be seen, as they’re paying him through 2020.

The Red Sox would love to see Castillo with his head on straight and reaching the potential they saw in him when they signed him. At the time, the Red Sox seemed to be reacting to losing out on Jose Abreu to the White Sox the year before, not wanting to be left out of the popular Cuban hitting market. But as Castillo started playing in games, there was that pit-of-the stomach feeling that the Red Sox got the wrong guy.

They made up for it by signing fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada, who was coveted throughout baseball, but they traded him this month to the White Sox in the Chris Sale deal.

“I guess we’ll see if not having his family around has weighed on him,” said one American League executive of Castillo. “Boston gave him a lot of money, but it wasn’t as if other teams weren’t willing to step up for him. I’m not sure any teams ever got as high as Boston did, but there were substantial other offers out there for him. You never know how this family situation affects a kid like that. If his head is clear, who know if he performs better? I guess we’ll find out in 2017 if that had anything to do with it.”

Advertisement



WRITTEN IN THE STARS

Hoping book performs well

Rick Peterson is one of the true innovators in pitching. In his new book “Crunch Time,” written with human performance expert Judd Hoekstra, Peterson outlines leadership qualities and mechanisms that allow not only pitchers but people from all walks of life to perform at crucial times.

“What strikes me about Rick is just how open he is to new ideas and challenging traditional thinking,” Oakland Athletics vice president and general manager Billy Beane writes in the book’s foreword. “That’s what reframing is all about — choosing to see the world through a different lens that enables you to bring out the best in yourself and others. Rick reframed how to best achieve maximum pitching performance, especially in pressure situations. He showed that performing in the clutch is not a case of ‘you have it or you don’t.’ Rather, it can be learned.

“He successfully brought out the best in the budding young stars of our pitching staff — the Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. Perhaps even more importantly, he helped the other less-physically-gifted pitchers like Chad Bradford and Cory Lidle maximize their potential and their contributions to our team. Baseball is a game with razor-thin margins of victory. Being able to get all your players — from the top of your roster to the bottom — to consistently perform to their potential in pressure situations is frequently the difference between winning and losing.”

Advertisement



Peterson has been a major league pitching coach with the A’s, Brewers, and Mets, and has also worked for the Orioles as their minor league pitching director.

Apropos of nothing

Edwin Encarnacion hit 42 homers and 127 RBIs in 2016.Elsa/Getty Images

1. The Indians are getting very close to being a superpower in the American League and should be a worthy challenger to the Red Sox for league hierarchy. They just got their hands on the premier free agent hitter in the game in Edwin Encarnacion, at three years and $60 million. He essentially replaces Mike Napoli as their first baseman/DH. Their pitching, if healthy, and it appears it will be (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco both indicated they are 100 percent), isn’t glamorous like that of the Red Sox but is effective. The Indians now have an elite power hitter, a top starting rotation and bullpen, and a world-class manager and front office. The Indians were also very interested in Jose Bautista but may be out of that hunt with the signing of Encarnacion, who was also being pursued by the A’s.

2. When you hear things like this, you wonder what the player is thinking. Jason Hammel jumped ship from the reputable Octagon agency to Aces simply because he thought the process of getting him signed was slow. It appears Hammel’s expectations for a big contract were unrealistic. He had a very good year for the Cubs (15-10, 3.83 ERA), pitching only 166⅔ innings and going seven innings or more in only six of his 30 starts. But the market hasn’t developed for him yet compared to, for example, Rich Hill (three years, $48 million).

3. Red Sox first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr. really likes Josh Tobias, the second baseman acquired from the Phillies in the Clay Buchholz deal. Amaro was the Phillies’ GM when they drafted Tobias. “He’s not a guy you look at initially and say, ‘What a great prospect,’ ’’ said Amaro. “You watch him over a period of time and he just grows on you. He hits well. He does everything well. Dave [Dombrowski] asked me about him and that’s exactly what I told him.”

4. It’s the time of year when you remember great people you’ve appreciated along the way. One of those is Sam Mele, the longtime Red Sox player and scout, and former manager of the Twins, who is 94 years old and one of the finest people I have met in this business. The Quincy resident still watches the Red Sox.

5. Milford’s Chris Colabello gets a second chance with the Indians, signing a minor league deal last week. Colabello served an 80-game suspension for a PED violation while with the Blue Jays last season, then was banished to the minor leagues, where he couldn’t get untracked. If Colabello reverts to his 2015 form (.321 batting average, .886 OPS), the Indians have another righthanded power bat they can use against lefties. Another solid move by Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, who keeps proving he’s one of the smartest and underrated executives in the game.

6. The last time I spoke to the A’s Billy Beane he thought there was progress on a new stadium plan in the Bay Area. It’s a story that never ends.

Updates on nine

Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit only .171 with 12 homers for the Tigers last season.Duane Burleson/Getty Images

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, free agent — Saltalamacchia, like many other free agents, gets antsy at this time of year, wondering where he might be playing next season. “We’ve had interest by a couple of teams but we haven’t made a decision yet,” said the former Red Sox backstop. Saltalamacchia hit only .171 with 12 homers for the Tigers last season. Several teams are in the market for a backup catcher. The Braves, Saltalamacchia’s original team, may have some interest.

2. Josh Hamilton, OF, free agent — Hamilton was scheduled to work out for the Rangers this past week. If things went well, Hamilton was going to be signed to a minor league contract with a major league invitation and likely have a chance to make the Rangers, who released him last season. Hamilton, who underwent reconstructive knee surgery in June, will be paid $24 million next season (the final year of a five-year, $125 million), $22 million of which will be paid by the Angels. Hamilton was one of the game’s great players for years after a history of drug abuse, but he has broken down. He does have a chance to win a job with the Rangers as a left fielder or DH.

3. Mike Napoli, 1B/DH, free agent — The Rangers have always admired Napoli’s leadership skills, as did the Indians a year ago, and the Red Sox before that. Napoli had a career year with 34 homers and 101 RBIs last season, but he finds himself looking for a job. The Orioles are also said to have interest if they can’t reunite with Mark Trumbo.

4. Mark Trumbo, 1B/DH, free agent — Unless Trumbo comes down on his salary demands he will not be with the Orioles, the team with whom he revived his career last season, leading the AL with 47 home runs and 108 RBIs. The Orioles won’t break the bank on a four-year deal and they like the idea of getting a draft pick if another team (Colorado?) signs him. The Orioles keep insisting they’re not interested in Jose Bautista because of the bat-flipping incident, but he makes the most sense for that lineup. The Orioles are seriously considering a Trey Mancini/Pedro Alvarez platoon.

Dustin Pedroia batted .318 in 2016.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

5. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox — Pedroia, who had knee surgery after the season, has had no issues and has made very good progress in his rehab. He said in a text, “I’ll be ready, don’t you worry.” Pedroia had a superb season both at the plate and in the field, but injured his knee diving for a ball in Toronto. That occurred in August and he continued to play for the rest of the season.

6. Jose Bautista, 1B/OF/DH, free agent — Interest in Bautista has come from the Rays and Indians (though that may have changed with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion). With newfound money after the Clay Buchholz deal, the Red Sox may resurface. The Rays never seem a likely destination, but the team has had a good relationship with the Octagon family of agents, who delivered injured All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos. There have been negotiations, and the Rays’ interest seems real if the money isn’t crazy.

7. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Phillies — Buchholz has a chance to become the leader of that pitching staff, but the one downside to the deal for the Phillies is that it blocks one of their young pitchers from getting a chance in the majors. The Phillies seem to be building up to the point where they can start spending money and augment their young talent with serviceable and even outstanding veterans.

8. Jose Quintana, LHP, White Sox — The White Sox are trying to make a similar deal for Quintana that they did with Chris Sale. The Pirates appear to be in the lead, even after signing Ivan Nova. If the White Sox can pull this off, the likely targets would be pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows. The White Sox could also have interest in first baseman Josh Bell, but they have Jose Abreu. There are reports of the Yankees being involved, but it would have to be for some of their more redundant prospects. They do have a lot of shortstops in their system. Quintana is only 27.

9. Bobby Valentine, athletic director, Sacred Heart University — “Bobby V” said he’s received “a new education” since his name appeared as a possible ambassador to Japan for the Trump administration. Valentine does have a relationship with Donald Trump but has not said whether there has been official contact. He denied any contact with Trump’s transition team a week ago. Valentine spent parts of six years as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, and won a Japan Series.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “Since he began his career in 2008, new Marlins reliever Brad Ziegler has appeared in 604 games, the only pitcher since that date to appear in at least 600 games. He has pitched 596⅔ innings and allowed only 23 homers, the same total as new Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg in 219⅔ innings.” . . . Also, “Concern about too many lefty starters for the Red Sox seems overrated: At Fenway Park last season, righthanded batters hit .282 with a .804 OPS. Lefthanded batters hit .277 with a .803 OPS.” . . . Christmas happy birthdays to Hideki Okajima (41) and Rickey Henderson (58).

Memories of Christmas week past

Normally, Christmas week isn’t a busy time for baseball. The Winter Meetings have wrapped up, and a free agent signing here or there might be consummated. But not always. Here are some of the bigger happenings during the week leading to Christmas in baseball history.

Compiled by Richard McSweeney

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.