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Deep Dive: Catcher Edition, Part 3

Welington Castillo: Where do we go from here?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox
Suspension of Disbelief: After a disappointing season in more ways than one, Welington Castillo looks to rebound in 2019.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Welington Castillo through 2017, his disappointing 2018, and his future with the White Sox for 2019 and beyond.

Welington Castillo — how did he get here?

Welington Castillo, a resident of San Isidro, D.R., signed in 2004 at 17 with the Chicago Cubs as an international free agent. The backstop didn’t play organized ball until 2006 and worked his way up to the majors, when he had cups of coffee with the Cubs during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He played a bit more in the 2012 season, and had the same number of official at-bats (170) as he would end up getting six years later with the White Sox. Ultimately, Castillo remained in the Cubs organization until May 19, 2015, when he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Yoervis Medina.

This was the beginning of Castillo’s journeyman status in the major leagues. Just two weeks after Seattle acquired him, Castillo was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with three other players for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP Vidal Nuno. After a year-and-a-half with the Diamondbacks, Castillo signed a one-year, $6 million deal (with a second-year player option for $7 million) with the Baltimore Orioles. Castillo enjoyed a solid season with the Orioles in 2017, hitting .282/.323/.490 with 20 homers and 53 RBIs in 341 at-bats. Based on those numbers and making an educated guess on the market, Castillo bypassed his second year with Baltimore in 2018 and became a free agent.

For his eight-year career through 2017, Castillo had a slash line of .259/.319./.428, with 80 homers and 283 RBIs in 605 games (2,062 at-bats).

With the White Sox in 2018

With a solid year behind him, Castillo signed a free agent deal with the White Sox on December 1, 2017 — $7.75 million for his first year, $7.25 million for his second, with a third-year club option at $8 million with a $500,000 buyout. The contract gave Castillo a bit more security, but likely fell far short of what he aspired to in freeing himself in the first place. From the White Sox’s perspective, it was actually a reasonable contract, considering he was one of the best catchers available in the free agent market at the time, and helps explain why the White Sox made the seemingly aggressive move in signing him before their window of contention opened.

Castillo was actually off to a decent start (.267, six homers, 15 RBIs) until he was suspended 80 games without pay after testing positive on May 24 for Erythropoietin (EPO), a performance-enhancing substance. While never coming at a good time, this happened while AAA catcher Kevan Smith was on the DL and AAA backstop Brett Austin hadn’t incurred any playing time yet, just coming back from an injury himself.

The White Sox thus were forced to promote weak-hitting AA hitter Alfredo Gonzalez in Castillo’s place until Smith was able to come off the DL. Castillo’s stint away from the majors allowed Omar Narváez and Smith to establish themselves as one of the best offensive catching tandems in all of baseball.

Upon Castillo’s return from suspension and subsequent DL stint, he was activated from Charlotte on September 2, and concluded the year with a .259/.304/.406 slash line — quite close to his career averages. He hit six homers, with 15 RBIs, nine walks and 47 strikeouts in 170 official at-bats for the year. His WAR according to FanGraphs was 0.7; considering that FanGraphs values each WAR at $7.7 million, Castillo underperformed his contract by more than $2.45 million in 2018.

Castillo’s future with the White Sox

“Beef” still has one guaranteed year left for $7.25 million, with a team option in 2020. It’s likely that, barring a trade, that the White Sox will make Castillo the starter next year, with the idea of trading him during the season if the White Sox are out of serious contention by the trade deadline. However, the White Sox may feel compelled to trade him before the season in order to clear a spot for Kevan Smith, who has just one option left. If the Sox keep Castillo on the 2019 roster, they will be forced to decide between Smith (the better defender of the two, but unable to stifle a running game) and Narváez (a lefty bat with better power numbers and ability to limit a running game somewhat, but who has difficulty with framing and fielding his position). Even if Castillo stays on the roster for the whole season, which seems unlikely, the White Sox will most assuredly opt out of his 2020 contract, allowing Narváez, prospects Seby Zavala and Zack Collins, and/or Smith to duke it out in spring training.