By Mike Steffanos
The news of Ollie Perez' release by the Mets didn't catch any of us by surprise. The lefty came to camp armed with a fastball had all of the giddy up of an AMC Gremlin with even less chance of actually reaching a desired destination.
With both Perez and Luis Castillo out of the door, Mets fans will need to find a new scapegoat for their undiminished frustrations. Jason Bay would be well advised to get off to a quick start in April.
While I absolutely agree with the decisions to release Perez and Castillo, I didn't feel the sense of exultation that many fans have expressed. I just can't work up feelings of anger or hatred at ballplayers for receiving contracts that I would have signed myself if given the chance. I reserve my feelings of disappointment for the General Manager who offered them those contracts.
Moreover. I can't help but think that it didn't have to be this way for either player.
Castillo came to the Mets at the trade deadline in 2007, producing a solid .296/.371/.372 line in 50 games. While everyone else seemed to be fading in September. Castillo was at his best -- .316/.404/.418 with 21 runs scored. It wouldn't have been out of line to offer him a 1-year contract with some sort of second year option, but to sign the 32-year-old gimpy-kneed infielder with a game that was totally dependent on speed for 3 years was ludicrous.
If the Mets had Castillo back on a 1-year deal in 2008, they would have watched him hobble through 87 games batting .245 and would have looked elsewhere for a second baseman for 2009. Luis would have faded quickly into a footnote in Mets history without inspiring any lingering ill will from the fan base.
As for Perez, a 3-year deal for a lefty starter who had been fairly successful didn't seem out of line, although the money was somewhat startling. If Ollie had managed to produce at the inconsistent but relatively effective level he had in 2007 and 2008 it would have gone okay for him.
I think the "what if" in Ollie's case involves playing in the World Baseball Classic before the 2009 season. He came back from that tournament with diminished velocity and suspect mechanics after Dan Warthen complained of not getting calls returned by Mexico's pitching coach.
I always wondered why the Mets, after investing 36 million bucks in the flaky lefty, didn't spend a few more dollars on sending someone to monitor Perez' training and keep him on some sort of sensible regime. Maybe if they did that, Ollie would have given them more than the 3 wins he managed in these past two seasons. As it is, at $12 million per win Perez was one expensive southpaw.
One last "what if" with Perez involves the people who advise him. While Perez did not have to accept a demotion to the minors last year, it was clearly in his best interests to do so. Someone really needed to convince him of that, but it's unclear that much of an effort, if any, was made in that regard.
By not accepting the demotion, Perez not only lost the chance to pitch every fifth day out of the spotlight and maybe figure things out, but he irretrievably alienated the fans which only made some sort of redemption even less possible. It's hard enough to succeed at the major league level; it's so much more when your every failure is accompanied with a soundtrack of boos.
I have to confess to you that I'm a sucker for redemption stories, and there was always a little piece of me that hoped that Perez or Castillo might have found some baseball magic and won redemption from the baseball Gods.
One of my favorite movies is The Natural. Roy Hobbs has both the potential for greatness and personal flaws that undermine his great talent. The movie culminates in an ultimate moment of redemption that never fails to bring a tear to my eye even after many viewings. Redemption is a powerful theme.
If you've ever read the book, though, you know that the ending was quite different, with Hobbs striking out and failing to achieve that redemption. The book's ending is probably higher art and certainly more like real life -- where many seek redemption, but few achieve it.
Still, I prefer the movie.