Free agency is a wasteland. The Phillies apparently either have no one to trade or other GMs are being supidheads and are no-so-shockingly unwilling to give up top prospects for the likes of Marlon Byrd or A.J. Burnett. The MLB Draft has netted the Phils two of their three top prospects the last two years, but they usually take an awful long time to reach the Major (Aaron Nola a possible exception).
So, we turn our eyes to a tiny communist island nation off the coast of Florida. Cuba, please save the Phillies.
There are two slugging outfield prospects that have recently defected and are preparing to join a Major League roster near you; Rusney Castillo and Yasmani Tomas. Either one could make the Phils better next year, and the Phils should pay whatever they must in order to land at least one of them.
Last year the Phillies signed Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a Cuban defector, to a 3-year, $12 million deal. A larger deal was scuttled after the team had concerns about his shoulder, and after missing the first part of the season with various "dead arm" issues, Gonzalez was recently promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
On Saturday night, Gonzalez made his debut for the Iron Pigs and recorded his first save with a scoreless ninth inning, topping out at 93 mph. His future is in the Phillies' bullpen, at least for now.
It's good that Gonzalez is having some success, because had he continued to flop, it's fair to wonder if that would have scared the Phillies from going hard after any future talent from Cuba.
Thankfully, that is not happening.
As I mentioned last week, Cuban outfield prospect Rusney Castillo has been holding private workouts for numerous Major League teams, including the Phillies. After watching him last week, manager Ryne Sandberg came away impressed.
Ryno has liked what little he's seen of Cuban OF Rusney Castillo. Called him a Byrd-Puig combo (from build), also said Kirby Puckett.— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) July 29, 2014
Amaro also attended the workout, but was coy about his interest. This much is clear, though. The Phils are interested. Baseball America's Ben Badler says scouts had to go back and re-work their reports on him, noting that he had added significantly more bulk to his frame and upgraded his power potential as well
Badler compared Castillo to another speedy center fielder, Rajai Davis.
Davis might not be the flashiest comp, but during his age 27-29 seasons, Davis amassed 6.5 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com), with a peak of 3.3 WAR for Oakland as a 28-year-old in 2008. That’s an average of a little over 2 WAR per season at the same age as Castillo, which is a league-average player.
That, however, was before Castillo increased his raw power. If Castillo can give teams comparable production to Davis at the same age with a little extra pop, he might not be a star like Yoenis Cespedes or Jose Abreu, but that’s a very solid everyday player, with no draft picks or prospects to surrender to acquire him.
Let's see, speed plus power in center field. Yes, I'll take that, thank you.
Of course, every team needs power, especially in the outfield, and the competition for him will be serious. As it will be for Yasmany Tomas, who also recently defected from Cuba. SB Nation's Amazin' Avenue recently profiled him, noting that Tomas was rated the sixth best non-MLB player in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Owing to his thick 6'1", 230-pound frame, scouts say Tomas possesses more raw power than anyone else on the island not named Alfredo Despaigne—the preeminent slugger in Cuban baseball over the last decade. While Tomas obviously demonstrates power when pulling the ball, he also has power when driving the ball up the middle or to right-center. His swing is somewhat uppercutty, and as a result it opens holes in his swing, particularly on pitches inside that he can't catch up to.
Tomas did this at the World Baseball Classic...
Yes, the Phillies would be interested in this, too.
While the Phils have money to spend, they likely won't pony up the cash to pay for both players (although if they did that would be a wonderful development). Tomas is seen as the player who is more likely to have a bigger impact in the Majors, however, the Phils may decide they can't afford to miss out on Castillo and risk getting neither player.
Yasiel Puig was given a 7-year, $42 million deal by the Dodgers and Jose Abreu got a 6-year, $68 million deal. Those are likely comps for Castillo and Tomas, although Tomas is not the prospect Puig was and could perhaps get a little less. However, the dominance of Cuban players in baseball could drive up the price for both.
Certainly, the Phils will have to pony up the dough to land either one of these players. Castillo is able to be signed at any time, while Tomas still has a few hurdles to clear until he's eligible, likely early next year.
Whatever they decide to do, the Phillies should do all that they can to ensure at least one of these guys is playing outfield in Philadelphia next season.
It may be the only way to really kick-start the rebuilding process.