The Castillo Conundrum

Not to steal one of Joe’s headlines, but it does seem like the Mets have a lot of problems that start with the letter C this year, doesn’t it?  This one involves second base.  Last year, Luis Castillo was simply terrible in every aspect of the game of baseball.  He did not hit, and he did not field.  The only aspect of hitting Castillo excelled at was patience; he hit only .245 but with a .355 OBP, which isn’t terrible.  Unfortunately, he slugged a mere .305.  In 359 plate appearances, Castillo had only 11 extra base hits.  Eleven!  We knew he wasn’t a slugger when he came here, but at least he used to hit doubles and triples, and would beat out base hits with his speed.  Not anymore.

So if Luis Castillo can’t hit well enough to play second base, and he can’t field well enough to play second base…what do the Mets do with him?  He is due another $18 million over the next three seasons, a contract that looked terrible at the time and looks worse every day.  Second base alone was not the reason the Mets failed to make the playoffs…but if the Mets had a second baseman who was either a league average hitter or league average fielder, perhaps they make that one game up in the standings in spite of the lousy bullpen?  In a season where they only missed by one game, any number of factors could be the reason; if the bullpen is Reason 1, Luis Castillo has to be Reason 2.

At this point, the Mets have to realize that Luis Castillo is a sunk cost.  He might get a little bit better, but he will never justify spending $6 million a year.  He turned 33 in September, and is coming off of double knee surgery.  If he isn’t fast enough to beat out slow grounders, he can’t hit .300.  If he can’t hit .300, he isn’t particularly valuable to the Mets, even with the walks.  If he can’t run very well, he can’t get to enough ground balls up the middle, meaning he can’t play defense.  Essentially, there is nothing Castillo can do that will provide this team with value, so he needs to go.  The $18 million is gone anyway, and there is almost no chance he proves valuable enough for the Mets to recoup any of that money, so it’s time to move on.

What should the Mets do then?  There are options.  Rafael Furcal was briefly linked to the Mets in rumors, but I think it is likely he winds up playing for a team that will use him as a shortstop.  Orlando Hudson seems to be begging for the Mets to get involved in his free agent talks.  I have come out against Hudson, as his home/road splits worry me, as does his sudden decline in defense last year, but he seems like a player who would age a bit better than Castillo.  Brian Roberts has been available in trade talks in the past, but that seems to have quieted down of late.

Then there are stop gap measures available.  Felipe Lopez probably is stretched as an every day player, and doesn’t play great defense, but he would be a hitting upgrade over Castillo and is younger.  He’s probably best used as a utility player, though.  Mark Grudzielanek is also available.  He’s also not a great player, but at least a small defensive upgrade, and another player who is capable of hitting the ball past the infield on a regular basis.  None of these guys should be considered long term solutions, or perhaps even solutions past 2009, but would all represent a short-term gain over Castillo.

It feels like the Mets aren’t really openly working towards fixing second base.  This is a mistake; Castillo isn’t going to get any better.  This reminds me of the Willie Randolph issues from a year ago; everybody knew what they had in Willie, and that he wasn’t going to get any better.  In order for the Mets to improve, Willie needed to go, and the team waited too long to make that move, and it may have cost them a playoff spot.  The same goes for second base; doing nothing is not an option.  This team cannot go into 2009 with Luis Castillo starting at second base.  They may not be able to get his contract off the roster, but at the very least, somebody else needs to push him for playing time.  They need to be proactive rather than reactive.

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