The day has finally arrived where the Mets are without Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez on their roster. After months of speculation, both Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez have been released despite being owed a collective $18,000,000 for the 2011 season. While that is a large chunk of money to just swallow (especially given the Mets’ current financial turmoil due to the Madoff lawsuit), this was something that had to be done in order for the organization to start its rebuilding process. Both Castillo and Perez have become symbolic of the Mets’ recent failures and mediocrity on and off the field. In order to appease the starving fan base, something had to give, and it has now been given.
Castillo was acquired from the Twins in late 2007 to fill a hole at second base vacated by injuries to Jose Valentin. He seemed like a logical fit as a prototypical number two hitter behind Jose Reyes, as well as a solid defender and base stealer. He had been on several winning teams, so there was not much to argue with at the time he was obtained. The issue became when the Mets signed him to a four-year contract worth $24,000,000 after the 2007 season. In defense of Omar Minaya at the time, the move was made to appease Johan Santana and help convince him to sign an extension upon being traded to the Mets in February 2008. Santana apparently liked playing with Castillo in Minnesota, so the Mets helped their cause by locking up the former Gold Glove second baseman. At the time, people knew the contract was not a good one, but it was ancillary to the Santana acquisition.
Over the past few years, Castillo has personified the Mets’ failures with his lackluster defense, atrocious hitting, and nagging injuries. He was a shell of his former self despite only being in his early 30′s. He did not provide the solid defense he was known for. Perhaps the moment he will most be remembered for is his inexplicable drop of a pop-up hit by Alex Rodriguez during a 2009 Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, A-Rod popped a ball up off Francisco Rodriguez which seemingly would end the game and give the Mets a solid win over their cross-town rivals. Amazingly, Castillo’s footwork towards the ball was agonizingly awkward and the ball hit off the middle of his glove letting the tying and winning runs score. That was the end for Castillo in Mets’ fans’ eyes and hearts. He followed this up with piss-poor hitting and a general malaise that gave the appearance of apathy.
Oliver Perez is another story. He was acquired at the trade deadline in 2006 from the Pittsburgh Pirates along with reliever Roberto Hernandez in exchange for outfielder Xavier Nady. The trade was precipitated by Duaner Sanchez’s car accident in Miami that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. Nady, who was playing a solid right field for the Mets and providing productive offense in the middle of the order, was shipped away for pitching help. Perez was essentially a throw-in in the trade. At the time, he was a 25-year old lefty with potentially dominating stuff and a huge upside. Pitching coach Rick Peterson was convinced he could turn Perez into a star. Down the stretch in 2006, it looked like the Mets had completely ripped the Pirates off as Perez won Game 4 of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals, and then pitched great in Game 7 deserving a better fate. He was even known as “Big Game Ollie” because of these performances. He followed that up with solid seasons in 2007 and 2008 despite not being as consistent as the Mets would have liked.
Following the 2008 season, Perez entered free agency and was not even offered a contract by another team. The Mets, after seeing pitchers like C.C. Sabathia and Derek Lowe sign elsewhere, decided that Perez was the best option left and offered him a lucrative three-year, $36,000,000 contract. At the time, the deal was not vilified because Perez was still a young, talented left-hander with a big upside. Then, he showed up to the World Baseball Classic followed by spring training in 2009 completely unprepared and out of shape. His velocity barely reached 90 mph and his mechanics were out of sync. This translated into a horrendous 2009 season that culminated with a knee operation. With hopes that he would be healthy and in better shape, the Mets relied on Perez to return to his old self in 2010. However, nothing could have been farther from that. His control was non-existent and his velocity dropped even more. After being demoted to the bullpen, the Mets asked Perez to accept a minor league assignment to work his issues out. Selfishly, Perez exercised his right to decline this and he remained on the big league roster as a complete waste of space. He was placed on the disabled list with questionable lingering knee issues, only to return later in the summer and be sparingly used out of the bullpen in a mop-up role. By this point, the Mets’ fans were irate with Perez for his lack of performance and professionalism. When Omar Minaya was fired and Sandy Alderson was brought in, there were hopes that his first transaction would be releasing Perez. Instead, the Mets gave Perez another opportunity to redeem himself this spring. After competing for a spot in the starting rotation, Perez’s horrific performances moved him into contention for a left specialist role in the bullpen. That didn’t work out either. After surrendering back to back homeruns to two no-name Nationals this past weekend, Perez’s fate was sealed.
These moves represent a cleansing of the bad taste in the mouths of Mets’ fans. Castillo and Perez symbolized the frustration expressed by the fan base and represented a physical target to vent that frustration. Now they are gone. Castillo has already signed a minor league contract with the Phillies, and Perez is sure to catch on somewhere as a low risk, high reward $400,000 investment. Even if they do find success elsewhere, the Mets are better off today without them. There needed to be a change in the culture within the organization, and Sandy Alderson has helped facilitate this change with these two moves. Now, the Mets must learn from their mistakes and be more circumspect about the long-term investments they make.