Rusney Castillo: Baseball’s Richest Minor-League Player

Rusney Castillo officially declined to opt out of the final year of his seven-year, $72.5 million contract on Sunday, meaning that the 32-year-old outfielder will remain with the Boston Red Sox organization. As a result, Castillo will now earn $13.5 million for the 2020 season.

Castillo is coming off a strong season with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Pawtucket PawSox, finishing the year with a .272 batting average to go along with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs. Consequently, Castillo was named Pawtucket’s Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season.

Through his four minor-league seasons, Castillo has hit .294 and shown the kind of power, defense, and athleticism that would make him an effective player on any major-league roster.

Sadly for Castillo, a call-up to the major-league club likely isn’t coming anytime soon. Castillo was removed from Boston’s 40-man roster when he was first demoted by the Red Sox back in 2016. The team did it to save themselves from the tax hit that his hefty contract would’ve triggered. Boston’s desire to stay under the luxury tax demanded that Castillo and his $10.5 million salary be stashed away in the minor leagues back in 2016.

Unfortunately for Castillo, the news got even worse because 2016 was the year that Major League Baseball and the player’s union agreed on a new CBA. Part of the new agreement states that a player’s salary will count towards the team’s luxury tax as soon as he’s added to the 40-man roster. Even if said player is later removed from the 40-man roster, his salary will still count for luxury tax purposes.

Castillo’s mega-contract, along with the new CBA terms, essentially closed off any path to the majors for him. This is especially true as the Red Sox look towards the 2020 season.

Boston’s principal owner, John Henrypublicly stated back in September that he intends to avoid the luxury tax in 2020.

“We need to be under the CBT,” said Henry, the team’s controlling owner. “That was something we’ve known for more than a year now.”

The Red Sox have had the highest payroll in baseball the past two seasons and are on pace to go well over the luxury tax threshold for a third consecutive season unless they make some changes. The luxury tax threshold will go up to $208 million for the 2020 season, and the Red Sox will have several big contracts coming off the books this offseason such as Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez, and Pablo Sandoval.

However, all of that money is now essentially going to Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts, both of whom signed lucrative contract extensions before the 2019 season. Those new contracts will kick in next season, so Boston’s departing players don’t actually save them all that much money.

On top of Sale and Bogaerts’ new contracts, the Red Sox will also have to continue to pay J.D. Martinez, as ESPN‘s Jeff Passan reported on Monday that the big right-handed hitter has officially declined to opt out of his contract

The Red Sox are still well over the luxury tax threshold, meaning that the organization will still have to move some players and, more importantly, a lot of money elsewhere to abide by the wishes of John Henry.

This makes it highly unlikely that Rusney Castillo will see any action in the majors in 2020. Boston would have to execute a radical fire sale to make room for Castillo’s $13.5 million contract while remaining under the luxury tax threshold. This means that baseball’s richest minor-league player will remain exactly that: a rich minor-league player with virtually no path to the majors.

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