This rebuilding season is all about “learning experiences,” as Rick Renteria is often quick to remind.
Now the White Sox have been taught a lesson they didn’t want to learn.
Welington Castillo, one of the few veteran leaders on this otherwise young, developing roster, was handed an 80-game suspension Thursday after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
It’s the antithesis of the culture and identity the White Sox are trying hard to create as they attempt to construct a homegrown contender: playing hard, playing the right way, Ricky’s boys don’t quit. Earlier this week, it was Castillo, oddly enough, who was benched by Renteria for not running to first base on a popup. Now Castillo has received another punishment, one far more severe and one that didn’t come from the White Sox organization.
“It’s disappointing. Surprising, disappointing and there’s a little bit of sadness,” general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. “We know the type of guy he is, and he shows it, too, by standing up and accepting full responsibility for what he puts in his body, regardless of how he got it or why he did it.
“In some ways it’s a lesson for these guys about being diligent, and in some ways it’s a lesson about accountability. But ultimately, it’s a lesson we weren’t looking to learn right now.”
As Hahn mentioned, Castillo has apologized profusely. He talked with Hahn and Renteria after finding out about his suspension Wednesday night. He apologized to his teammates Thursday morning. And he released an apologetic statement through the MLB Player’s Association on Thursday.
“The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made,” the statement read, in part. “I take full responsibility for my conduct. I have let many people down, including my family, my teammates, the White Sox organization and its fans, and from my heart, I apologize.”
Hahn was quick to point out that Castillo’s transgression will have little to no effect on the organization’s rebuilding effort, and with catching prospects Zack Collins and Seby Zavala looking strong in the minor leagues, that’s not difficult to believe.
But there are several important things that Castillo was brought in this past winter to accomplish that could impact the White Sox situation past the next three months and into coming seasons. Castillo was acquired specifically to help a young pitching staff transition to the major league level. His experience as a veteran backstop was valuable to Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and the team’s other young arms at the major league level.
“One of the first things Welington said to (Renteria) and I last night is how large a part of the disappointment he has in himself, and the root of his regret to us, is that he understood that part of his role in the clubhouse is to be a role model and to help develop some of these players,” Hahn said. “For the next three months, he won’t be available to do that.
“Each player plays a certain role. In terms of what we’re trying to accomplish for the long term, this really is not going to have much of an impact at all. From a short-term standpoint, it’s going to stink. It’s disappointing in terms of the options that we’re running out there and our chances to win each and every night, and for the next three months these players won’t get the benefit of the wisdom that Welington brings.”
Additionally, Castillo’s contract — which includes a team option for the 2020 season — allowed the White Sox a safety net in the developments of Collins and Zavala. If the contention window is supposed to open in 2020, and if Collins and/or Zavala weren’t quite ready to be a major league catcher by then, Castillo could provide the answer at that position.
Should this suspension change the White Sox minds in that department, there’s a possibility of the team having a hole at catcher in the next couple years.
“He’ll be back here in late August after the 80 games are served, and obviously he remains part of our plans for 2019,” Hahn said. “He’ll have an opportunity to make an impact on these young players in a positive way going forward.”
And on top of it all, Castillo is a good player, a good hitter who was helping the White Sox offense. The wins haven’t been frequent, but without Castillo’s bat in the lineup for three months — he hit .333 in his last 15 games, while replacement Omar Narvaez has a .180 batting average this season — a season Hahn has described as “the hardest part of the rebuild” is bout to get harder.
Losing Castillo might not seem like the difference between a win and a loss on most nights, but the White Sox now face a downgrade at the catching position. And now the waiting game gets even more difficult while Collins and Zavala continue to develop in the minors.
“This is another example, as I’ve said from the start of this whole process, guys are not coming to Chicago because there’s a need in Chicago. They’re coming to Chicago because their development, we feel, is essentially complete at the minor league level and it’s time for them to accomplish what they can in Chicago,” Hahn said. “This catching situation is going to be no different, whether it’s Seby or Zack or (Kevan Smith) when he’s healthy. It’s going to be based upon how the long-term development of each of those players is best served, not necessarily by, ‘Hey, we need a catcher tomorrow in Chicago.’”
The White Sox will need a catcher for a lot of tomorrows while Castillo serves his suspension.