The $7-million player reacts angrily to being replaced at third base by 24-year-old Aubrey Huff.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
BALTIMORE -- The Rays keep telling people to be patient as they try to overcome their early season struggles.
But they're sure looking a little antsy themselves.
The Rays on Friday dispatched a second starter from their lineup in five days, benching struggling Vinny Castilla and promoting Aubrey Huff from Triple-A to take over at third base.
Promoting the 24-year-old Huff seems like a move designed for the future. But general manager Chuck LaMar said replacing Castilla, who has a .206 average and is hitless in 18 at-bats, with Huff will help the team win more games now.
"It's well documented that we have been and will continue to build the organization for the future, but once the major-league season starts you've got to do everything you can to give your players a chance to win on a night-to-night basis," LaMar said.
"In our opinion, Vinny Castilla has struggled. The whole team has struggled and in no way are we singling out Vinny for our 2-7 record or for all of our struggles offensively. However, we're waiting to see the Vinny Castilla we thought we traded for two years ago.
"He was better in winter ball and better in spring training, but once the bell rang, and especially over the past week, we've seen signs offensively and defensively of him slipping back to the way he performed last year. And that is unacceptable."
Castilla, on the disabled list three times in a career-worst 2000 season, reacted angrily and said he wants out.
"I'm shocked. This is ridiculous. I can't believe it," Castilla said. "I battled my a-- off to come back for this season and after nine games they tell me I can't play? That's ridiculous. ... If they want to think that way, at least give me 100 at-bats. How many did I have, 30? (Actually 34)."
Castilla, who is making $7-million in the last year of his contract, said he wants to be traded or released.
"This is a lack of respect from the organization toward me," said Castilla, 33. "They need to do something. They can't just sit me on the bench. It won't help anybody in this organization to have a $7-million player on the bench. Get me out of here. ... I can't put up with this."
LaMar said he has no plans to get rid of Castilla yet, that he will start some games, likely against left-handed pitchers, and that he is still, in essence, competing for the third-base job.
Even if LaMar wanted to move Castilla, it might not be that easy. With a hefty salary and unimpressive statistics, Castilla would be hard to trade unless another team suddenly had a dire need and the clubs agreed to split the costs.
If the Rays release Castilla, they forfeit any chance for financial relief since they would be responsible for all but $200,000 of his salary. Plus, they first need to be sure that Huff is indeed ready.
"We make moves that make this organization better, and right now it was calling up Aubrey Huff and keeping Vinny Castilla on this club," LaMar said.
While neither LaMar nor manager Larry Rothschild would be specific, both said the timing was right for a change. That was similar to what they said Monday when they designated second baseman Bobby Smith for assignment and replaced him -- at least until prospect Brent Abernathy is ready -- with Russ Johnson.
"We have not given up completely on Vinny Castilla, it's just that we need to shake things up, we need to win games right now to right the ship, and yet we're able to do it with a young player that we think is part of our future," LaMar said.
Huff, hitting .250 in seven games for Durham, was sleeping in a Toledo, Ohio, motel room at 6:30 Friday morning when he got the call from Bulls manager Bill Evers and made a hurried trip to the Detroit airport to catch a flight to Baltimore.
"I'm just going to do what I always do, work hard, hit, play defense," Huff said.
Having hit .287 in a 39-game apprenticeship last season, Huff figures to be more relaxed and -- in theory -- more productive this time around.
"He's played well and we felt like it was time to get him up and time to let him get a lot of at-bats in the major leagues," Rothschild said. "If he's going to be a good player, he'll show us."