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NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles Sign Rusney Castillo

Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo has signed with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball.  The Eagles officially announced the move today, after reports out of Mexico last month suggested Castillo was preparing to join the Japanese team.

Castillo last played in the majors in 2016, appearing in nine games for Boston that left him with a .262/.301/.379 slash line over 337 career plate appearances from 2014-16.  The big majority (289 PA) of that playing time came in 2015, when Castillo seemed ticketed for regular duty in Boston’s outfield after being called up from the minors in May, but Castillo stumbled to just a .647 OPS that season.

Though he signed a seven-year, $72.5MM deal as an international free agent in August 2014, Castillo was already on the outs with the Red Sox, as the team put him on waivers and outrighted him to Triple-A in June.  This left Castillo stuck in a contractual loophole, as his salary was no longer counted against Boston’s luxury tax bill since he was outrighted.  However, the new collective bargaining agreement from the 2016-17 changed these terms, so Castillo couldn’t be returned to the Red Sox 40-man roster without the entirety of his remaining contract being again counted for luxury tax purposes.

As a result, Castillo was more or less trapped at Triple-A Pawtucket to play out the remainder of his deal.  He ended up posting a respectable .295/.335/.425 slash line with 42 homers over his 1973 career PA with the PawSox, and he will now head to Japan in an attempt to spark what has been a thoroughly unusual career.

Barring any changes to international signing rules in the upcoming CBA talks, Castillo’s $72.5MM deal will stand for the foreseeable future as the largest deal ever given to a Cuban free agent.  It also stands out as one of the more expensive misfires in Red Sox history, though it shouldn’t be forgotten that Castillo had enough potential coming out of Cuba that almost every team in baseball had some level of interest in him back in 2014.  Should Castillo play well for the Eagles, it will be interesting to see if he remains in Japan next winter or perhaps explores a return to Major League Baseball.

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