Frank Castillo’s day in the spotlight

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Frank Castillo’s big-league career was rather interesting in the abstract. On the whole, he looks like a below average starter — he finished 82-104 with a 4.56 ERA in 13 seasons — but he had his moments.

In his first full season, he had a 3.46 ERA in 33 starts for the 1992 Cubs. He regressed the following year and ended up spending most of 1994 in the minors. He came back with his best season in 1995, finishing 11-10 with a 3.21 ERA that ranked eighth in the NL. The next year, he tied for the NL lead in losses, and when he went 3-9 with a 6.83 ERA for the Tigers in 1998, he appeared done, even if he was just 29.

Rather than give up, Castillo kept going. No turnaround appeared forthcoming when he posted a 4.68 ERA in 19 starts for the Pirates’ Triple-A team in 1999, but in 2000, he made the Blue Jays and busted out with a 10-5 record and a 3.59 ERA in 138 innings. Now, 3.59 might not seem like much now, but he would have ranked second in the AL in ERA to Pedro Martinez had he pitched the 162 innings to qualify. That caused the Red Sox to give him a multiyear deal as a free agent, and he came through with a solid first year (10-9, 4.21 ERA) before struggling in the second (6-15, 5.07 ERA) and vanishing again. He pitched just 5 1/3 more innings in the majors, the last at age 36 in 2005. In 2007, he pitched in indy ball as a 38-year-old before officially giving up. He later served as a pitching coach in the Cubs system before drowning this weekend.

But let’s go back to 1995 for a moment. On Sept. 25, Castillo was making his next to last start of the Cubs’ abbreviated season. Three weeks earlier, he had pitched a five-hit shutout against the Rockies. But on Sept. 25, facing the Cardinals, he had something even more special in store. With his wife watching on, Castillo took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, losing it only when Bernard Gilkey delivered a triple on a 2-2 fastball with two outs, Sammy Sosa dove for the ball in right field, but came up a bit short.

“It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back,” Castillo told the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan afterwards. “Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it.”

He was one strike away from history, but even though he couldn’t quite pull it off, it was a whale of a game. He fanned 13 and walked just two. He faced two batters over the minimum. His Game Score of 96 was tied for the best of the 1995 season, and it was the highest mark for a Cub since 1971.

RIP, Frank. 44 is far too young.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

Braves
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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.