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Castillo should be cut, not vilified

The New York Mets' Luis Castillo at second

The New York Mets' Luis Castillo at second base while playing the Florida Marlins in the bottom of the second inning. (Aug. 26, 2010) Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.

The players wore green Mets caps Thursday at Digital Domain Park, honoring St. Patrick's Day tradition even as they merely worked out for a couple of hours. The rest of the team took on the Red Sox in distant Fort Myers.

And no one looked worse in green than Luis Castillo, who is neither young nor ripe nor naïve.

The smart money says the Mets will release Castillo shortly, in which case his run as a Met would end with fitting ignominy. When future generations of baseball historians analyze this terrible endeavor, here's hoping they come to this conclusion:

It reflects worse on the Mets than on Castillo himself.

"Sometimes things will happen. I tried the best I can," Castillo said before joining his non-traveling teammates. "That's what it is. That's why the fans sometimes, they try to push you into doing good. The fans start to feel bad, because they want you to do good."

We're not here to present Castillo as some icon of integrity who has been wronged. He's just a low-energy baseball player -- and at this point, not a very good one.

But all Castillo did was say "yes" in November 2007 when the Mets offered him a four-year, $25-million contract that became a likely albatross the minute it sprang to life.

That's November 2007, when Castillo already was 32. When he underwent right knee surgery before signing the deal. When his defense already had slipped from elite to either slightly above average or slightly below average, depending on your preferred metric.

When his power . . . well, he never had any power.

Mets fans who shake their fist at Castillo miss the point. It shouldn't surprise you that a middle infielder with heavy mileage, particularly one so reliant upon speed, should acquire the injury bug.

The true blame falls on former Mets general manager Omar Minaya for projecting so wrongly, and then on the team's former "get on the field, now!" culture that led Castillo to hurry back from his surgery in 2008.

"When you sign for $25 million, you want to play all year," said Castillo, who played in only 87 games in 2008. "[If I sat], I'd look bad, Omar would look bad, the team would look bad. I think I tried too hard."

His 2009 rebound never gained public traction, thanks to 1) the 2009 Mets' awful 70-92 record and 2) Castillo's game-ending dropped pop-up June 12 that allowed the Yankees to beat the Mets. And when he fell apart physically again last year, any resonant goodwill dissipated.

And then there was the infamous visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center last September. Everyone on the team besides Castillo and fellow outcasts Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez went to meet with injured United States soldiers. Mets management, rather than embrace the positive of such a high attendance rate, didn't discourage the media from scrutinizing the trio of absentees -- even though it was a voluntary event.

"When I made that decision, that was my authority," Castillo said Thursday. "I've never gone there because I don't like to see things like that. I've never gone. I should've maybe gone.

"If it happens next time, [I'll go]. I'll do the best I can."

Yes, ideally, everyone would go, and yes, some of Castillo's teammates were upset with the three no-shows. Life is complex, however. It's not very becoming to cast such harsh judgment on people.

Cutting Castillo would be the right move. It's time for the Mets to move forward.

Casting Castillo as a central villain in the team's misery, however? You'd be exhibiting far more range in blame-casting than does Castillo at second base.

New York Sports