Mets cast off Castillo with fans in mind

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At the New York Mets' home opener last season, the trainers got booed during the pregame ceremonies.

So could you imagine the hostile reaction if Luis Castillo were introduced as the starting second baseman in the April 8 lineup against the Washington Nationals this year -- especially if the Mets limp home after a tough opening trip to Florida and Philadelphia?

Well, Castillo will be spared that treatment.

After carrying Castillo on the 40-man roster for the entire winter, general manager Sandy Alderson, manager Terry Collins and the rest of the staff concluded Friday what Mets fans told them months ago -- that Castillo should be released. They affirmed the decision in an early morning meeting Friday, ownership signed off on eating the $6 million owed to Castillo this year and his locker was emptied before noon.

First base coach Mookie Wilson should have his familiar No. 1 back soon.

The interesting part of the decision was Alderson and Collins both acknowledging probable home-crowd treatment of Castillo factored into the decision. Collins made it sound like it was not a small factor, either.

"We just thought due to all the things that he would have to face returning to New York, had he had a good 10 days, and then a bad day, the good 10 days would have been second place to the bad day," Collins said. "We just thought maybe it was time to move on and try to make a change."

In reality, Castillo's range has badly diminished. And a slap hitter with limited range isn't exactly worth retaining, especially if his dismissal would be met with mass approval from the fan base.

Even more relevant is this, even if it is unspoken by Mets brass: The Mets and Nationals figure to be jockeying for fourth place in the NL East this season, so why waste playing time on Castillo, who clearly was not going to be a Met beyond 2011? Instead, it makes far more sense to use a prospect at second base who might swim instead of sink and be a contributor when the Mets are relevant again.

You can make a strong case that the second-base choice ought to have been Ruben Tejada, but he was quickly dispatched to minor league camp so that's not going to happen. The organization's rationale: If Jose Reyes is injured (or more likely traded), Tejada would already be handling shortstop on a daily basis in the minors and could slip in seamlessly.

It strikes me that Tejada could have just as seamlessly slid from second base to shortstop at the major league level in the event of something occurring with Reyes, but that decision has been made.

Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus is the next-most-obvious choice, and the direction it appears second base is headed. More scouts believe Emaus won't hit in the majors this year than believe he will, but at least one sees parallels to the Milwaukee Brewers' Casey McGehee, who hit .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBIs last season.

If Emaus is not working out in late April, he can always be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays at that point, and the Mets can turn to Daniel Murphy, or summon Justin Turner from Triple-A Buffalo. But if you initially tried Murphy or Turner and returned Emaus to Toronto before Opening Day, you would not have that option later.

As for Castillo, Collins was still alluding Friday to that dropped pop-up at Yankee Stadium two seasons ago.

"You know, he dropped a stinkin' pop-up," the manager said. "It's not going to be the last time an error is ever made. It's not going to be the last time someone costs a team the game. Luis Castillo should not be blamed for anything except being a professional the way he handled it this morning and the way he went about this camp."