(Posted by Mike Frohwirth)
The Phillies added another name to the 2B competition today, signing veteran Luis Castillo to a minor league deal. Castillo will compete for a roster spot with Josh Barfield, Pete Orr, and Delwyn Young. Wilson Valdez is currently expected to open the season as the starting 2B.
Is this a good move? Well, if you read the title of the post, you'd see that it is a "smart, depth move." Castillo comes cheap, really cheap. If Castillo makes the team, he'll be paid the major league minimum ($414K), the same Barfield, Orr, or Young would be paid. (The Mets will be paying the rest of Castillo's contract.) If Castillo doesn't make the team, the Phillies can release him, and he will receive only termination pay. The Phils have ten days to throw Castillo into the mix for a roster spot, and see if he is an upgrade on any of their current options.
Does Castillo have anything left? That remains to be seen. Reports indicate that he is sure-handed, but that his range is diminished. In 2010, Castillo posted a woeful .235/.337/.267 split, but his batting average was scarred by a .259 BABIP. Castillo has a lifetime BABIP of .329 (likely a function of his penchant for hitting the ball on the ground), so some regression towards that number could boost his batting average over .260. Castillo has one homer in his last 579 plate appearances, so he is probably not going to provide much power.
Is Castillo better than what the Phillies already have? While Josh Barfield, Delwyn Young, and Pete Orr have enjoyed strong Springs, they are not very good options. If Castillo can be a slightly below average defender, and bat an empty .260, both of which seem viable, he will likely produce more than Messrs. Barfield, Young, and Orr could at the Major League level. Given that the Phillies have spent a large percentage of their payroll on starting pitching, they likely are very concerned about the quality of their defense. Luckily for Castillo, none of his competitors are strong defenders.
Is Castillo better than Wilson Valdez? Maybe. Don't forget that Valdez isn't very good. While he has a strong arm, and the ability to play several positions, Valdez is only average defensively. Valdez had a career year in 2010, posting a .258/.306/.360 split. Castillo, even in his poor 2010, posted a far superior .337 OBP, thanks to his ability to take walks. With a typical BABIP season, Castillo should OPS in the .690/.700 range, which is likely better than Valdez will do.
Should Castillo be the starting 2B? Probably. (Don't forget that Valdez isn't very good!) Valdez is probably best utilized as a utility player, mostly due to his inadequacies on offense. If Castillo's defensive ability is adequate, he should receive the majority of the starts. Valdez has a sub- .200 batting average against lefties in his career, so the switch-hitting Castillo should, at minimum, start against southpaws.
What about Castillo's "character concerns?" We'll see. If the Phillies don't think Castillo is the best fit, they can dump him, and move on to one of their other cheap alternatives. Castillo has the most upside-potential of the 2B competitors, so he is definitely worthy of the opportunity.
Is this a "desperation move" by the Phillies? It's no more a desperation move than inviting any of the non-roster invitees to camp. The Phils are examining their current projected roster, and investigating cost-effective ways to provide incremental improvement. (It's a "smart depth move", remember?)
If Castillo makes the team, how will the Phillies make room on the 40-Man Roster? Minor league infielders Brian Bocock and Carlos Rivero could be designated for assignment. They could clear waivers and return to AAA, but neither would be a huge loss. Drew Naylor could also be a DFA candidate. (However, the most likely decision could be to place Chase Utley on the 60-Day DL, which would free up a 40-Man Roster spot, but keep Utley out of action until June.)
Should we be worried about Chase Utley? Of course. Utley is probably the best 2B in MLB, and his replacements could be among the worst. However, the Castillo acquisition shouldn't necessarily be interpreted as a long-term solution, to a projected long-term need. The Phils are simply adding another option to the 2B mix, for what will, hopefully, be a short-term solution to a short-term problem.