By Mike Steffanos
I always kind of liked and respected Luis Castillo as a ballplayer, and I don't harbor any lingering bad feelings towards the guy. I may even be one of the few big-time Mets fans who didn't spend the whole winter obsessively hoping for the Mets to release Luis Castillo.
Still, I wonder what took the Mets so long to bow to inevitability and send the second baseman packing. They wasted a lot of spring training ABs on a 34-year-old infielder whose production has drastically declined both offensively and defensively, and whose very existence symbolized for many fans the failures of Mets ownership and the previous regime.
The Mets have little chance of a playoff spot in 2011, and Castillo had absolutely zero chance of returning in 2012. Meanwhile, the second base question has not been clarified in the least bit even as Castillo's continuing presence only contributed to the overall murkiness.
If I made personnel decisions for the Mets, I would have played both Rule 5 pickup Brad Emaus and Daniel Murphy extensively early on to facilitate a decision as to whether one or both could play extensive innings at the position. Instead, much of the opportunity was wasted on the departed Castillo even as Murphy and Emaus DHed or played other positions. With two weeks to go, nothing is settled -- not even close.
Instead, we hear talk of 26-year-old Luis Hernandez winning the job -- he of the career minor league stat line of .255/.302/.331 in 3,000+ AB. Why is this even under discussion? Because he hit a memorable home run last year? The New Mets regime has handled many things admirably this winter and spring, but the second base situation reeks of the kind of confusion that characterized the previous leadership.
By the way, while I'm sure that there is some anti-Latin bias in a small percentage of the fan base, the idea that this was extensive enough to explain the hard feelings against Castillo is ludicrous. I frankly believe that the article was a cynical ploy on the part of the writer to drum up controversy.
Luis Castillo indeed became a symbol for fans, but not a symbol of race. In the tradition of Kaz Matsui, Shawn Green and countless others, Castillo became a symbol of growing frustration with Mets ownership and the people they hired to run their ball club. Dropping the pop fly to lose the Subway Series game sealed his fate, and only the type of extraordinary play that Castillo was no longer physically capable of producing could have saved him with the fans.
Moreover, the local media plays a part in this by feeding the growing antipathy of the fans with stories that cater to these strong emotions. They are in competition for our eyeballs, and emotional stories attract more eyeballs than any others. I don't really blame them for doing this, but I do find it hypocritical when someone like Andy Martino writes an article that attributes the motivations of a minority of fans to the rest of us.
Finally, while I've always had a soft spot for Oliver Perez, his continued presence here makes no more sense than Castillo's did. Perez doesn't have the stuff anymore to earn his way out of his personal doghouse. He's just a distraction and another page that needs to be turned.