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  Are Luis Castillo’s Cries of Unfair Treatment Justified?

Photo by Keith Allison

By now, every Mets fan knows that the team cut Luis Castillo free yesterday, parting with the past-his-prime second baseman with one year and $6 million left on a four-year deal that was a disaster from the minute it was announced in November of 2007.

The move doesn’t catch anyone by surprise. Castillo’s fate was written on the wall as soon as Sandy Alderson stepped in the door in November.  His injury-plagued 2010 certainly didn’t help his cause; had he recorded enough at-bats to qualify for the OPS leaders a year ago, his .604 clip would have been the second-lowest in the major leagues, ahead of only Cesar Izturis.

Castillo will likely be chided by fans and media alike for his last words to the Mets upon getting his release. According to Newsday, he told manager Terry Collins that he felt like he didn’t get a fair crack in the team’s five-headed second base competition. “I said, ‘I came here to play and you didn’t give me the chance,’ ” he told Newsday’s David Lennon. ” ‘You didn’t use me.’ ”

On the surface, Castillo doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on (and no, that’s not a crack at his bad knees). The Mets paid him to play poorly for them for two of the past three years (it’s easy to forget, but he hit .302 in 580 at-bats with an on-base percentage of .387 in 2009, when he stayed healthy). They watched as the All-Star attributes he demonstrated with Florida vanished. His range in the field evaporated, his speed was sapped from him, and his .320 averages started dipping south of .250, magnifying his biggest flaw (a lack of any power whatsoever) even further in the process.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine that any of the parties involved (including Castillo) expected him to win the second-base competition. And Castillo’s 29-at-bat spring training sample showed more of the same: a .289 average, no power, and suspect fielding. When you can’t beat out players like Luis Hernandez and Brad Emaus for a starting job, you are best served elsewhere.

But consider this: Instead of Castillo saying “I didn’t get a fair shot” with the Mets, does he mean that he didn’t get a fair shot anywhere to earn a roster spot? It’s clear he wasn’t going to earn it here unless he put up Ty Cobb-like spring numbers at the plate and looked like Ozzie Smith in the field, all within a tiny sample size. Castillo might have been saying that the Mets should have cut him sooner rather than later, allowing him to look for a job elsewhere.

It certainly would’ve made sense from the Mets perspective. They would have avoided the headache of having Omar Minaya’s two albatrosses (Castillo and Oliver Perez) taking up roster space in camp. And Castillo would have had a chance to give a new organization a fresh look at him for a cheap price. Now, Castillo will likely have to start the regular season in the minors so whatever team he latches on to can go through that evaluation process.

Some might say things like “tough”, “it isn’t like Castillo isn’t getting paid”, and “he sucks”. These are all fair points, and the Mets certainly had every right to hold Castillo to his contract. It just seemed rather pointless. It’s possible that the Mets’ financial troubles forced them to hold him into spring training until they could find the money to buy him out, but otherwise, it made more sense to cut the cord and bury the cost to avoid the subsequent media distractions that followed.

One thing’s for sure, and that’s that Castillo will not be missed by Mets fans. He, along with Perez, were vilified by the fan base, frequently pointed to as scapegoats for the team’s problems. Make no mistake, they were terrible investments from Minaya. (This writer sensed that both would be from day one.) Castillo’s scapegoat status was larger, perhaps, because of the way a Mets-Yankees game ended on June 12, 2009, which overshadowed what was actually a decent. (Perez, remember, kept the Mets in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, and put together a decent 2008, so Mets fans had an easier time accessing positives before he signed his new deal.)

But Castillo should not be met with as much disdain as Perez. Perez was audacious enough to frequently rebuff requests from the Mets to figure out whatever mysterious problems ail him in the minor leagues last season. We have no reason to believe that Castillo would have refused such a request, as it was never posed. And Perez’s career went into the tank as soon as he inked his contract. Castillo still put together one decent season at the plate, at least.

Castillo’s situation reminds me a lot of Rick Dipietro’s with the New York Islanders. They both were offered bad contracts; it’s not their fault they signed them. They both proceeded to suffer recurring injury problems, problems that their respective teams had ample warning about before said contracts were offered. It was no surprise, then, that they were unable to live up to the terms of the contract. Perhaps they failed more spectacularly than anyone expected, but at least they tried to fulfill their deals to the best of their ability. The same cannot be said for Perez, although the warning signs were there, too.

Regardless, Luis Castillo’s era in New York is over. He will be the next in a long line of failed big-money acquisitions in this organization, alongside the Roberto Alomars, Bobby Bonillas (twice), and (soon-to-be) Oliver Perezes of the world. The bad will greatly outshine the good, as it should, and Mets fans will be stuck with another player to try to forget.

It just didn’t have to last as long as it did.

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