It was symbolic, then, that Castillo was among nine roster moves on Friday, as the club removed him from camp in what was seemingly as much a public-relations move as a baseball decision.
"I don't think there's any question that there was some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "That's something that was taken into account. At some point, you have to make an organizational decision, and it goes beyond just an ability to play or not play. Those things are relevant."
In releasing him, the Mets absorbed the $6 million remaining on the four-year, $25 million contract Castillo signed prior to the 2008 season. Even if the second baseman signs with another team, the Mets will be on the hook for that money.
2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy, Luis Hernandez and Justin Turner are the four remaining competitors for the starting second-base job.
Castillo, who was informed of the Mets' decision around 10:30 a.m. ET, left the team's Spring Training complex without speaking to a group of reporters. But before leaving, he did tell Newsday that he will "wait, go home and hope to catch on with another team." Hours earlier, the Mets had posted a lineup for Friday's game with Castillo in it.
"I'm not sure there's anything he could have done differently," Alderson said. "Everybody has to go out and play. Certainly, controlling the effort is one thing. Controlling the outcome is another. I think he made the effort."
In 28 Grapefruit League at-bats, Castillo hit .286 with no extra-base hits, committing one error and several other notable misplays in the field. At one point during camp, manager Terry Collins called Castillo into his office, reprimanding him for what he saw as sullen behavior.
In the end, however, the decision to release Castillo had more to do with past performance than with anything that happened this spring. A .290 career hitter with 370 stolen bases, the three-time National League All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner was acquired by the Mets midway through the 2007 season in the midst of career-altering knee issues. After the season, then-GM Omar Minaya signed him to a multiyear extension.
Though Castillo rebounded from a poor 2008 to hit .302 with a .387 on-base percentage in '09, the team's fan base had already begun dogging him for his inability to stay healthy and, eventually, for the dropped popup in Yankee Stadium. Castillo endured more criticism last year after skipping a voluntary team trip to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Given those circumstances, his release this spring had become somewhat of a foregone conclusion, something Alderson later referred to as "in the best interest of the organization."
"We just thought that all the things he would have to face going to New York -- had he had a good 10 days and then a bad day, the 10 good 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.
But the Mets nonetheless brought Castillo to camp and allowed him to compete for the starting second-base job. And he hung around for more than a month, in large part because none of the other candidates distinguished themselves.
But Castillo did not make it past the second round of cuts.
"I don't think he was surprised," Alderson said. "But ultimately when something like this happens, even if you're anticipating it, while it may not be a surprise, it's a sudden realization. And so I think there's some emotional response to it, but he took it well."
In Castillo's absence, there is a sense that the Mets may be better served using Murphy as a super-sub and a left-handed bat off the bench, and there is a likelihood that Turner will not make the Opening Day roster due to his remaining Minor League options. That means that the favorites may be Emaus, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Blue Jays, and Hernandez, a career Minor Leaguer who appeared in 17 games down the stretch last season.
"In spite of the fact that no one has obviously separated himself in the competition," Alderson said, "I think that we have a good enough sense of where this is going that we wanted to accelerate the process."
Alderson would not comment on whether the decision to eat $6 million in salary will affect the club's decision on Oliver Perez, who is owed $12 million under similar circumstances. But it remains likely that the Mets will release Perez before the end of camp.
"Frankly, since I've been here, this has never been about a reluctance to eat the contract," Alderson said. "If this sort of underscores that, so be it. What we're trying to do is something that's in the best interest of the organization long-term."
Given his contentious history in New York, Castillo certainly did not fit those plans. But the Mets were careful not to judge him for the disappointments at the back end of his career.
"He dropped a stinking popup," Collins said. "It's not going to be the last time an error's ever made. It's not going to be the last time someone costs the team a game. Luis Castillo should not be blamed for anything except for being a professional."