PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The New York Mets released second baseman Luis Castillo on Friday despite still owing him $6 million, cutting ties with a three-time All-Star linked to one of the most painful plays in team history.
Mets fans never forgave him for dropping a potential game-ending popup by Alex Rodriguez in 2009, a misplay that let the New York Yankees score two runs to win in the bottom of the ninth. Castillo was booed — a rarity in spring training — this week after he was slow to cover first base during an exhibition game.
The 35-year-old Castillo had lost a lot of range in recent years. The switch-hitter was among five candidates for the second base job this spring, a list that still includes Luis Hernandez, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Brad Emaus.
New general manager Sandy Alderson told Castillo about the move. Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon approved the move on behalf of team ownership.
"I think there were a variety" of reasons for the release, Alderson said. "Obviously, we wanted to see how he looked physically from an offensive standpoint, defensively. You know, I think Luis made a strong effort, but we just felt given our other options and where we are headed as an organization this was in our mutual interest."
Castillo won three Gold Gloves, was a two-time NL stolen base champion and helped the 2003 Florida Marlins win the World Series. He is a career .290 hitter with 370 steals in 15 seasons with the Marlins, Minnesota and the Mets. He stole 62 bases in 84 tries in 2000; he was 8 for 11 last year.
Castillo was preparing for the final season of a four-year, $24 million contract. He batted .235 with no homers, only six extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 247 at-bats last season before losing his starting spot to Ruben Tejada and Hernandez.
"I think in spite of the fact no one has obviously separated himself in the competition, I think we have a good enough sense of where this is going we want to accelerate the process, so it's important to sort of scale back the competition," Alderson said.
Earlier this week, new Mets manager Terry Collins said he needed to look past Castillo's history with Mets fans while picking who would play second base.
"I can't listen to that," he said, while adding, "I understand it."
Alderson said perception was a factor.
"I don't think there's any question there's some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point, and that's something that was taken into account," Alderson said. "At some point, you have to make an organizational decision that goes beyond just an ability to play or not play.
"Those things are relevant, and you try not to make them so controlling that it dictates the final decision under any circumstances, but realistically, it's a factor."
The decision to absorb such a large contract shows the organization might be willing to do the same with Oliver Perez, who is in the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract. He is in the competition for a lefty specialist role out of the bullpen, but has lost some velocity and fan support.
Alderson said he wouldn't comment on Perez's situation because "that has to stand on its own." He said contract value considerations do come into play in personnel decisions, though it didn't ultimately affect Castillo's fate.
"I think, frankly, since I've been here, this has, in my judgment, never been about a reluctance to eat the contract," Alderson said. "If this sort of underscores that, so be it, but what we are trying to do is something that's in the best interest of the organization long term."