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Saturday, March 19, 2011
Mets morning briefing 3.19.11

By Adam Rubin

Split-squad games on Saturday, with Chris Capuano at home and Pat Misch on the road. On to the Luis Castillo and court reporting:

Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal suggests the Mets should have held onto Castillo longer, but it was a symbolic move rather than one solely based on on-field baseball factors. Writes Costa:

None of the other candidates to replace him have distinguished themselves during spring training. And for as flawed as Castillo may be, he was arguably the team's best second baseman. By releasing him Friday, the Mets showed just how badly they want to rid themselves of the symbols of their recent past. The fact that the Mets still need a second baseman and don't have anyone clearly better than Castillo was secondary. That Castillo still had $6 million remaining on his contract was largely irrelevant. This was a cathartic decision as much as it was a baseball one.

• Record columnist Bob Klapisch joins the chorus against releasing Castillo. Writes Klapisch:

Was Castillo an historic second baseman? Hardly. Were the Mets going to the World Series with him in the starting lineup? Please. But unless we’ve missed something, Alderson and manager Terry Collins still are trying to win as many games as possible in 2011, and Castillo was their best option in a weak pool of replacements. That, of course, is the fault of Alderson’s predecessors and their inability to draft and develop players. Assuming he sticks around long enough, it’s going to take Alderson years to rebuild a farm system that can deliver impact players from Class AAA. The Mets currently have no such an up-and-comers -- certainly nothing to match the Braves’ Jason Heyward last year, or Freddie Freeman this spring.

The Mets' best shot at an impact second baseman from the minors, at least in the upper levels, may be Reese Havens. He was the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, four picks after the Mets took Ike Davis with the 18th overall pick. Havens, a gifted hitter, has dealt with persistent injuries since the draft, including having offseason surgery to remove an inch of a rib, which was contributing to a significant oblique problem last season. Havens has yet to play in a spring-training game. Jordany Valdespin, who had solid numbers in camp, is going to play shortstop at Double-A Binghamton and has not impressed scouts as much as he did Sandy Alderson-predecessor Omar Minaya. That's in part because of so much head movement that one scout did not think he could hit a breaking ball.

Meanwhile, here's my alternate point of view, in which I note that with the Mets not likely to make much noise in the division this year, why not start building for the future now with a younger second baseman? I actually thought Ruben Tejada would have been the best choice.

• Newsday's Jim Baumbach spoke with Castillo before the second baseman departed the complex. Castillo told him about the meeting: "I said, 'I came here to play and you didn't give me the chance. You didn't use me.' '' Castillo had been listed in that day's lineup, but his locker was quickly cleaned out after the meeting. Castillo had been 8-for-28 (.286) in the Grapefruit League, with each of his hits singles.

Steve Popper of the Bergen Record notes Terry Collins took no pleasure in releasing Castillo, nor for that matter telling Boof Bonser and Dillon Gee they had to go to minor league camp. "I had a [bad] day,” Collins said at his daily press conference. “You release a 15-year veteran who came in and was very frustrated when he showed up in camp. Obviously we all understood why, but he went about his job correctly, and said 'I’m going to try to help this club win,' actually went out there and worked very hard. I got a report even [Thursday] that he took extra work all morning long. So yeah, it’s hard to do."

• Read more from Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger about Castillo, including this:

He lost 12 pounds during the offseason, begging his wife to feed him smaller portions, desperate to prove that “I can still play,” he said.

Mike Puma of the Post covers Castillo's release by foreshadowing about Oliver Perez. Writes Puma in his first paragraph: One down, one to go.

Andy Martino in the Daily News looks at Castillo's psyche in spring training. "He felt bad," Jose Reyes tells Martino. "I talked to him every single day. The energy level was kind of down, because of all the speculation about what was going to happen to him. It got in his head. I wanted to help him out, because it's tough on the field when all that stuff is in your head."

• Baumbach chronicles Alderson's reaction when someone suggested to the GM that the cortisone shot given to Carlos Beltran to alleviate left knee tendinitis at least keeps him off his balky right knee and allows that to rest. "Some silver lining?" the GM dryly asked. "I'm still looking."

• The Wall Street Journal goes further into explaining trustee Irving Picard's revised lawsuit against Mets owners, which was filed Friday and now officially seeks more than $1 billion.

The complaint details a multimillion-dollar interest-free loan in 2004 from Mr. Madoff to Sterling tied to its purchase of the broadcast rights for the New York Mets from Cablevision. Facing a tight deadline on a $54 million payment, Sterling turned to Mr. Madoff to finance the transaction. According to the complaint, Mr. Madoff told Messrs. Katz, Wilpon and Marvin Tepper, a Sterling general partner, that Sterling's accounts were invested "in the market" and so redeeming funds would lower Sterling's returns. Instead Mr. Madoff offered to send Sterling the $54 million it needed for the buyout rights. That transaction with Mr. Madoff, according to the suit, was documented by a single letter drafted in part by Mr. Tepper on Mets letterhead that falsely described the loan as an "investment" by Ruth Madoff in the company that would become the SNY network.

• The Journal also reported that Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the minority partners in SNY, are not planning to allow the network to be part of any ownership sale. The report adds that SNY has $400 million in debt, while the team has $450 million.

• Newsday notes Picard's amended lawsuit complains that banks that refinanced more than $500 million in loans against the team were given priority over victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme if team assets ever had to be sold off through bankruptcy.

• The Daily News finds a source that said Mets owners did not do anything wrong in their structuring of the loans. The newspaper writes:

According to the person familiar with the litigation, the restructuring of the Sterling debt was an obvious and necessary process following the collapse of Madoff's company -- not, as Picard claimed, an attempt to favor investors over Madoff victims. "You have to provide new collateral when you lose your investments," said the person. "You might have to pledge new assets." None of the new assets were believed to have involved the Mets.

• The Post does the specific breakdown of how much Picard is seeking from each family member:

$195M from Jeff Wilpon, Mets co-owner, COO
$168M from Mets CEO Fred Wilpon
$154M from Mets board member David Katz
$120M from Mets president Saul Katz
$434M in total from Wilpon family members
$357M in total from Katz family members

• Read more on the amended lawsuit in the Times.

BIRTHDAY: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who played in 135 games for the '62 Mets after primarily spending his career with the Phillies, was born on this date in 1927. He died in 1997.