While all the trade-deadline conversation at Wrigley Field revolves around selling, the Cubs are also in a unique position to become buyers with Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo.
Industry sources say the Cubs are intrigued by Castillo and see the defector’s upside, sending five scouts to watch his showcase on Saturday at the University of Miami. Baseball America reported more than 100 people attended the South Florida event, with 28 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams represented.
While a private workout with Castillo hadn’t been set up by Monday night, the Cubs also didn’t rule out that possibility.
The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams reportedly in the mix for Castillo, meaning the Cubs would have to win a bidding war with the big-market superpowers.
The market for Cuban players has exploded, with White Sox slugger Jose Abreu and Los Angeles Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig making an instant impact and becoming All-Stars.
Castillo’s represented by Roc Nation Sports, Jay Z’s agency that partnered with CAA Sports and put together Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million megadeal with the Seattle Mariners.
The Cubs did win the Jorge Soler sweepstakes, giving the Cuban outfielder a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract before a new collective bargaining agreement severely regulated amateur talent.
More than two years later, Soler is expected to be a September call-up after a recent promotion to Triple-A Iowa, where hard-throwing Cuban Armando Rivero is excelling (3-0, 1.08 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 16.2 innings) out of the bullpen.
The Theo Epstein administration has made a huge push for international free agents, swinging and missing with Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish, Oakland A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The Cubs already pocketed money earmarked for Masahiro Tanaka after the Yankees won the bidding for the Japanese ace, saving up for future investments. Through trades, stockpiling young talent and attrition – Alfonso Soriano’s contract finally falls off the books after this season – the Cubs have created some financial flexibility.
This upcoming class of free agents will be pretty weak when the Cubs go shopping this winter, looking for ways to upgrade their lineup.
Castillo’s 27 years old, meaning he’s the right age for a business/baseball plan that had Epstein saying the Cubs shouldn’t be “obvious sellers” at next season’s trade deadline.
Castillo would still be in his prime in 2016, which the Cubs believe could be a breakthrough year with a deep group of position players that includes potential outfielders Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora.