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Rusney Castillo rumors: Could Cuban defector fill Tigers' CF void?

Thought the rumors were over? Not yet. Rusney Castillo is the next heralded Cuban defector to come stateside, and the Tigers suddenly have a glaring hole in center field.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Five days before the July trade deadline, when baseball fans across America were were focused on where names like Jon Lester and David Price would be dealt, many baseball officials were focusing their attention elsewhere.

Castillo's best tool is his speed, which many scouts peg at 70 grade (on a 20-80 scale). That might be the most important thing for the Tigers as Castillo's speed would fit comfortably in Comerica Park's spacious center field.

Reports of increased power make Castillo even more intriguing. Castillo has added 20 pounds of muscle since leaving Cuba, and one GM told Peter Gammons that he saw Castillo as a "20 homer, 30 steal center fielder."

The comparison floating around the Internet is "Brett Gardner with power." That would be quite the hypothetical player as Gardner currently has a career-high 15 home runs this year with a 131 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR. Juan Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who attended the showcase, meanwhile offers a Jacoby Ellsbury comparison.

Since Castillo is already 27 years old, he isn't subject to spending restrictions. He has all of his paperwork in order, so he can sign at any time. Depending how things shake out, Castillo could play for a major league team this year. Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera have certainly impressed in the last six days, but Castillo figures to immediately be better offensively than Carrera and better against right-handers and defensively than Davis.

The Tigers shouldn't sign him expecting him to contribute to a playoff run, however. He's essentially a 2015 free agent who will sign a few months early, and any 2014 contributions are gravy. The only other starting center fielder available this offseason is Colby Rasmus, notably boasting a .281 on-base percentage and below average defense, so it's certainly debatable whether or not the toolsy Rasmus should be playing every day. With veteran Torii Hunter likely departing in free agency this off-season, the Tigers will need to address the outfield.

With the success of fellow Cuban players Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and likely AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, it's no surprise that so many teams are interested. Teams are willing to pay a premium for young players who they don't have to give up any assets to acquire. Different reports peg Castillo's market anywhere from $35 to $50 million; a longer contract similar to Puig's $42 million over seven years could be attractive to Detroit.

It's hard to definitively say the Tigers should sign Rusney Castillo. The success of Cespedes, Puig, and Abreu may artificially inflate Castillo's market, and it stands to reason that if one or two Cuban players sign for big money each year, one of them must eventually bust. The Tigers will send their scouts to do their due diligence on Castillo, and if they agree that he profiles as an above-average major league center fielder, they'll likely have no problem finding the money or the playing time for Castillo.