HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

June 25, 2007

Twins shouldn’t overlook Castillo

By Jesse Menden

We all know it, the Minnesota Twins have a lot of decisions to make in the next few years regarding potential free agents.

The Twins will have to deal with names like Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Johan Santana in the near future. More immediately, they have to make a decision on Torii Hunter.

But one player that should not get overlooked is Luis Castillo. Right now, he is working on the last year of his deal that the Florida Marlins signed him to four years ago, and is a free agent at the end of this season.

He is a catalyst at the top of the lineup and a key part of the piranha-like attack. Outside of Morneau, Castillo is the only infielder that can hit the ball with any consistency.

Even though he is one of the top second baseman in the American League, it is possible the Twins may not try to bring him back.

The following are the reasons why the Twins should bring him back.

First, his fielding. Almost to a fault, the Twins will choose defense over offense, and Castillo fits both of those molds. What is not to like?

His defense is superb and he has committed only two errors this season. Castillo broke the Major League record for a second baseman earlier this season when he went 145 games without an error.

He almost never misplays anything routine, and makes plenty of plays other second basemen simply cannot make.

The second reason is the offense Castillo provides. Through Wednesday, he is batting .305, with 38 runs, seven stolen bases, and a .350 on base percentage.

He is near or in the top 10 of second basemen in hits, average, and on base percentage. He also knows how to score, ranking 13th in runs.

There is a reason why the Twins’ offense scored over 800 runs as a team last year, much of that was Castillo’s ability to get on base and start rallies.

For the 2007 season, the Twins are 31-27 with Castillo, and 5-7 without him. In 2006, the numbers really support Castillo. In games in which the he did not have an at bat, the Twins were just 6-15.

Even though Castillo is probably the best fielding second baseman in the majors, and the reason the Twins earned a lot of wins, there are several reasons why Minnesota might not bring him back, which I believe would be a big mistake.

As with everything in the Twins organization, money dictates. Castillo is making almost $6 million this year, and should command slightly more in his next contract.

The number-crunching Twins will have to dish out a lot of money in the coming years, and this looks like a great place to save some money, especially with prospects waiting in the minors.

Minnesota has two potential second basemen waiting in Rochester. Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla both appear that they could be major leaguers in the future.

Casilla had a good spring training, but is batting just .289, which isn’t exactly lighting up the International League.

On the other hand, Tolbert appears to be a Major League hitter. He is batting .373 and has struck out just 20 times in 166 at bats.

While they might not be ready for next season, they could be rushed up to the Majors out of necessity.

Those prospects will not be nearly as good as Castillo, but either one will be just good enough, which won’t bother the Twins in the slightest.

Another thing working against Castillo is his age and durability. He is 31 and has a tendency to break down. He needs days off every once in a while, and occasionally misses a string of games due to injury, a couple times a season. Castillo sat out 10 games in a row in late April.

The last thing working against Castillo is his attitude. He doesn’t always display that “Twins attitude,” and appears lackadaisical at times.

Even though the list of cons is bigger than the pros, the benefits Castillo brings to the Twins outweighs the price they may have to pay him or the injuries they might have to deal with.