THE NEWBERG REPORT — JUNE 25, 2006: BREAKING DOWN THE CASTRO MOVE

I’ve already written 90 percent of Monday’s “Going Deep” article for TexasRangers.com, discussing the nature of Frankie Francisco’s rehab assignment and the reason the Rangers ended it after just 18 days (when pitchers are generally allowed 30) and then optioned the righthander to Frisco.

I’m not going to scrap it. So I’m going to save an explanation of what the Rangers have done with lefthander Fabio Castro and the consequences of the move for the following week’s article. It’s probably just as well; this story isn’t over yet.

With righthander Robinson Tejeda summoned from Oklahoma to make last night’s start in Colorado (replacing the injured Kameron Loe), Texas created roster space by making the somewhat surprising decision to designate Castro for assignment. The Rangers have 10 days within which to trade the Rule 5 pick or place him on league-wide waivers. If he’s placed on waivers, the worst team to claim him would inherit the constraints of Rule 5, having to keep him in the big leagues for the rest of 2006 in order to retain his rights past this season. If he were to clear waivers, Texas would be required to offer him back to the White Sox (from whom Kansas City selected him with the December draft’s top pick, promptly trading him to Texas for utility man Esteban German) for $25,000. But that won’t happen — there’s no chance Castro would clear waivers.

And I’d suggest there’s almost no chance that Texas ever places Castro on waivers in the first place. It’s a virtual lock that the 21-year-old will be traded.

Does this mean the Rangers didn’t value Castro’s upside? Of course it doesn’t. Obviously they liked him quite a bit, or they wouldn’t have made the trade for him, wouldn’t have devoted an Opening Day roster spot to him, wouldn’t have made it nearly half a season paying him the big league minimum to hold a spot in the Texas bullpen at times and to rehab a groin strain in Surprise, Frisco, and Oklahoma City at others.

But Jon Daniels decided that Texas, in a tight division race with Oakland, could no longer go forward with Castro as a permanent member of the relief corps, especially with a rotation that’s forcing the bullpen to work harder lately and with a number of fellow relievers pitching inconsistently. Add the fact that Frankie Francisco and Josh Rupe could be returning soon, and that Adam Eaton or a trade acquisition could move a current Rangers starter into the pen, and Castro’s hold on a job over the last three months was looking more and more tenuous, particularly assuming Texas is going to stay in the race.

He hasn’t been a disaster in his few opportunities with the Rangers; far from it. Opponents hit a measly .200/.351/.233 off him. He gave up four earned runs (4.32 ERA) in 8.1 innings, allowing six hits (five singles and one double) and fanning five, though he did issue seven walks. But this is a kid who had never pitched above Class A before April, and so command and consistency issues were to be expected. The Rangers just didn’t want to be the team to deal with those the rest of the summer.

Because there are sure to be several teams interested in giving a big league roster spot to Castro for what amounts to only half a season, Daniels should be able to generate a handful of trade offers for the small southpaw.

And I’d submit to you that the offers should be better now than they were in December, when German was the best offer the Royals got for him. The reason for that is no team was going to give up a useful veteran for Castro in December, because every team probably believed it had a chance to do something in 2006 (or at least had to act that way for the benefit of their ticket-buying public).

Today, the story is different. Teams out of the race or on the verge of it might have veterans that are not as meaningful to their big picture as Castro would be, and teams who have established strength and stability in their bullpen — even contenders — might see enough of a ceiling in Castro that they think they can hide him the rest of the way this season (really, just until September, when rosters expand and Castro’s presence won’t handicap the manager under any circumstances) and benefit for years after that by having him under control.

Texas is neither out of the race nor fortified with a stable pen. And so Castro is on his way out.

But trust this: Daniels is always well prepared. Texas knew for nearly a week that Tejeda was going to come up to make last night’s start, so you can be sure Daniels was working the phones to determine what Castro’s trade value might be well before he made yesterday’s procedural move. Bet on him getting a player back who the club believes can help the big league team right now more than Castro would have, or a prospect whose future the club likes just as much as Castro’s.

Here’s my guess: if the Rangers had been getting any more than 5.2 innings per game out of their starters, or if guys like Joaquin Benoit and Antonio Alfonseca and Brian Shouse and C.J. Wilson had been more effective this spring, or both, Castro sticks. But the bullpen has been taxed, and it has been inconsistent, and as a result the Rangers decided they needed the arms they believe they can most count on at every relief spot. So Castro moves on, and he’s almost certain to be in the big leagues the rest of the year, in someone else’s uniform.

And it may be that Daniels already has a trade he’s willing to make if nothing better materializes, and the designation for assignment simply puts every other team on notice and creates a finite window for them to put in their bids.

I’m disappointed that Castro isn’t going to finish the year as a Ranger and fit next year into the upper levels of the club’s farm system, which is relatively thin on high-ceiling lefthanders. But let’s see what Daniels converts Castro into, which is far more likely to be a player than $25,000 of Chicago’s money.

The cool thing is that this could all play out right around the time that 300 of us will have Daniels fielding our questions, between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in one week, at Newberg Report Night on July 2.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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