Minneapolis — The Tigers looked at Rusney Castillo as their starting center fielder for next year — and maybe for many seasons after that.
“We were offering him a long-term contract,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Friday afternoon. “So, yes, we thought he’d be our center fielder for a while.”
One problem. The Boston Red Sox signed him instead, to a reported seven year, $72.5 million contract.
But there was no down-to-the wire disappointment in Dombrowski’s voice when he spoke at Target Field about losing the highly regarded Cuban.
The Tigers didn’t even come away with the feeling of finishing second for him.
That’s because Castillo’s agents called the Tigers on Monday, Dombrowski said, and told them they were no longer in the running. Case closed. No back-and-forth. Door slammed.
Soon after the call, two things happened:
1) Dombrowski phoned owner Mike Ilitch to tell him the team was no longer in the running.
2) Rumors not only persisted that the Tigers were in it, but that it was down to the Tigers and Red Sox — which, indeed, might have been the truth.
The Tigers may have been dealt the last rejection. But Dombrowski insisted they were out of the running Monday, and that no additional calls were made.
But he was long over any sudden disappointment about it.
“We liked the player a great deal and made him a substantial offer about a week ago,” he said. “They wanted our best offer right off the bat, and we gave them our best offer. They called us back this past Monday and told us we were out — that we were not even in the neighborhood of clubs interested in signing him.
“We didn’t say anything, though, because we didn’t know if they would come back to us. With some guys, they tell you you’re out and you aren’t.
“But they never did come back, and we’ve not had conversations all week long.
“So all the rumors that we were one of the finalists ... to my knowledge, we were not one of the finalists.”
Dombrowski also said Castillo never figured in the Tigers’ plans for the remainder of this season.
“We never thought of signing him and playing him this year,” he said. “Even though we were interested in signing him, our thought process was always towards 2015.
“We never felt he’d be in a position to play this year. I read that, but it wasn’t accurate. We actually offered him a 2015 contract to start, and to go from there.
“He wasn’t even in baseball playing shape, so we didn’t think there was any way he’d help us this year.”
When asked if Castillo’s rejection alters in any way the resolve of finding another bat this season, Dombrowski said, “I don’t think so. We were hoping Andy Dirks would be back, but he’s not going to be back. The reality is that I don’t know where we would find a bat. It’s hard to find hitters right now.
“You can’t keep going and getting players all the time. Our guys have to hit better. They have to do what they need to do.
“Sometimes the guys you have must rise to the occasion.”
Castillo, 27, is 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. And in Boston joins another Cuban star, Yoenis Cespedes, who came over in last month’s blockbuster trade with Oakland.