PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Luis Castillo arrived at his locker Friday morning, his name was in the Mets' lineup; he was playing second base and batting seventh.
But shortly after his teammates went through their pre-game drills, he was summoned to a closed-door meeting with general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins.
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That's when Castillo was told he was getting released.
"It's a tough day because this is the first time this has happened to me, you know?'' he told Newsday shortly after learning his fate. He was standing on the sidewalk of the parking lot at Digital Domain Park, dressed in a dark designer T-shirt and jeans, frantically scanning his smartphone as he spoke.
Castillo has said he knew this day likely was coming, but he said actually receiving the news was "hard." Still, he said he made a point of telling Alderson and Collins he wasn't happy how his spring training was handled. "I said, 'I came here to play and you didn't give me the chance,' '' he said. " 'You didn't use me.' ''
By cutting Castillo, the Mets effectively eat the $6 million remaining on the four-year, $25-million contract he signed after the 2007 season. If another team picks him up, the Mets still are on the hook for everything except $414,000, which is the collectively bargained minimum salary for a major-league player.
Alderson said the motivation to cut Castillo now, with two weeks remaining in spring training, was driven by a need to get a more focused view of the second-base competition. The remaining candidates are Brad Emaus, Luis Hernandez, Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner.
"In spite of the fact that no one has obviously separated himself in the competition, I think we have a good enough sense where this is going, and we want to accelerate the process,'' Alderson said. "It was important to scale the competition back a little bit.''
Castillo was 8-for-28 (all singles) with three walks in eight Grapefruit League games, and he said he finally is healthy. Asked what he could have done differently, he was stumped. "I don't know," he said. "I wish I had more chance to play. But he decided not to use me and made a move."
One factor completely out of Castillo's control was the fact that he's become such a lightning rod for Mets fans, a symbol of how the past few seasons have gone downhill. Alderson said the level of vitriol Castillo ignites in the fan base played a role in the decision to cut ties with him. "I don't think there's any question there's some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed until this point,'' Alderson said. "That's something that was taken into account. At some point you have to make an organizational decision, and it goes beyond an ability to play or not play.''
The Mets also sent eight players to minor-league camp. Oliver Perez, now competing for the role of lefthanded relief specialist, survived this round of cuts.
"Every day I come here and I don't hear anything, I'm just going to do everything I can to get better," said Perez, who threw a scoreless inning in the Mets' 3-0 win over the Braves Friday. But Perez's chances of making the Opening Day roster as a lefthanded specialist remain questionable at best.
Alderson declined to directly address Perez's situation Friday, but he made it clear that financial commitments made by the previous regime won't be a factor in his impending roster decisions. Perez will make $12 million this year.
"Would that stand in our way?" Alderson said. "I think the answer based on today is no."
Castillo to Phillies? Castillo's next destination most likely won't be Philadelphia. According to a Phillies official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, they will open the season without Chase Utley but are satisfied with their current options. With Anthony Rieber