A day after it was reported that Welington Castillo would receive an 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball made it official and announced the ban.
Castillo, the veteran catcher brought in by the White Sox this past offseason, tested positive for a banned substance, per the league’s announcement, and was handed the 80-game suspension for first-time offenders.
Castillo released a statement a few hours after the suspension was officially handed down.
“I was recently notified by Major League Baseball that I had tested positive for EPO, a substance that is prohibited under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement,” he said. “The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made. 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. Following my suspension, I look forward to rejoining my teammates and doing whatever I can to help the White Sox win.”
It was the first time since new, harsher rules were put in place in 2005 in the wake of baseball’s steroid era that the White Sox have had a major league player suspended for such an offense.
Reports Wednesday night — which came out while Castillo was playing in the White Sox game against the visiting Baltimore Orioles, his former team — indicated that Castillo did not test positive for a steroid, but rather for a non-steroid performance-enhancing drug. Baseball's announcement indicated that Castillo tested positive for Erythropoietin, a performance-enhancing substance.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn released a statement on the suspension: "The Chicago White Sox were saddened and disappointed to learn of the suspension of catcher Welington Castillo for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Welington has apologized to the team and his teammates and has taken full responsibility for his actions. He understands that he has negatively affected the team and has fallen short of the expectations we have of our players. The White Sox fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game.”
Castillo has a key role on this White Sox team as a veteran catcher tasked with helping to develop a group of young pitchers, two of whom are seen as very important pieces of the organization’s ongoing rebuilding effort: Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. How Castillo’s 80-game absence affects their development remains to be seen. Omar Narvaez, not as adept defensively behind the plate as Castillo, will take over as the team’s No. 1 catcher.
While the White Sox work to develop a specific identity and culture through this rebuilding process, this suspension seemingly flies in the face of what manager Rick Renteria is attempting to create with his preaching of playing hard, playing the right way and giving everything you’ve got. It was Castillo who was benched earlier this week for not running to first base on a popup. Renteria has done that several times this year, and it makes one wonder how such an egregious violation of baseball’s rulebook will be handled inside the clubhouse both during and after Castillo’s suspension.
Castillo’s future is also a topic of discussion in the wake of this news. He signed a two-year deal with the White Sox during the offseason, and there’s a team option for a third. It seemed to be an addition that would act as a bridge to highly ranked catching prospect Zack Collins, who along with fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala is having a nice offensive season at Double-A Birmingham. Collins and Zavala aren’t necessarily close to hitting the major leagues, and if this suspension should change Castillo’s future with the team, perhaps it could impact those prospects’ futures, as well. Maybe Castillo wouldn’t be around to provide a veteran safety net in 2020 or whenever they reach the big leagues.
With Kevan Smith, who lost out on the backup catcher’s job in spring training, on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, the White Sox brought Alfredo Gonzalez up from the minors to serve as the backup to Narvaez and take Castillo’s spot on the active roster. But it’s possible Gonzalez will be just a temporary solution until Smith returns to full health.