Luis Castillo may be the best thing that ever happened to Oliver Perez, at least this week.
The Mets lefty received some flack for not reporting to spring training early, but scrutiny of Perez has lessened in the last few days with the just-on-time arrival of Castillo. Jon Heyman in particular seems to have it out for Castillo, insisting the Mets should release him right now and pick up free-agent scrapper David Eckstein to "immediately boost their attitude/karma." (I will file this under Reasons I'm Glad Jon Heyman is Not the Mets' GM.)
Heyman's tweets were a bit over the top and a tad unprofessional, but he's far from the only one not pleased with Castillo. Read between the lines of any of the team's beat writer updates and you can see an undercurrent of exasperation with him. Then again, that may just be a reflection of the fanbase's attitudes, since most sentiments expressed by Mets fans make Heyman's remarks about Castillo seem mild in comparison.
I'm not the biggest Luis Castillo fan in the world, and though he ostensibly has a clean slate with the new front office, I suspect that Sandy Alderson and company feel the same way. If he were released before Opening Day, that'd be perfectly fine by me. Much like Sam Page wrote yesterday, I'd just as soon not have to hear about someone who, barring a miracle or a disaster, will not break camp with the Mets.
However, I think much of the dislike of Castillo is way out of proportion to the man's actual crimes. I also believe he has suffered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time--namely, on the Mets simultaneously with Oliver Perez.
After being acquired by the Mets during 2007, Luis Castillo received a four-year, $25 million contract in the subsequent offseason. This deal almost immediately became a symbol of the Omar Minaya regime: Filling the team's holes with mediocrity and overpaying for the privilege.
Even in his prime, Castillo was a slap-hitter with just okay defense at second base, but age and injury have diminished these already modest skills. He was not well liked among the fan base even before he dropped an easy pop up in the bottom of the ninth of a Subway Series game on June 12, 2009. That turned a Mets win into a Yankee victory, and Castillo from a disliked player into a hated one.
With all this being said, my dislike of Castillo solely has to do with him not being very good at baseball. I don't know anything about him personally, nor do I particularly care. I thought his excuse for not going to Walter Reed Hospital last summer was a little shabby (much, much shabbier than that of Carlos Beltran, who somehow got the lion's share of the media outrage anyway), but other than this, I've seen no evidence that he's a Bad Guy.
Contrast that with Oliver Perez, who held the Mets hostage last year by refusing a minor league assignment. ("I don't want to go there," he told the Daily News. "I want to get better here.") The team was forced to give him a sham of a DL stint and "rehab" time, and just barely escaped the ire of the commissioner's office when doing so. After that, Perez clogged up a roster spot for a good chunk of the season, acting as the bullpen's poison pill, only to be used when every other option had been exhausted. Perez has clearly decided that if his once-promising career was going to go down in flames, he was going to do as much collateral damage as possible on the way down.
The problem for Castillo is that in most people's minds, his sins and Perez's have been conflated. When the Mets' problems are discussed, the enormous, unmovable contracts of Castillo and Perez are mentioned in the same breath. So somehow, Castillo has become as disliked as Perez, even though nothing he's done while in a Mets uniform comes close to how Perez hamstrung the team last year, which approached Terrell Owens levels of cluelessness and selfishness. Really, all Castillo has done is accept a contract offered to him--a terrible one, yes, but I wouldn't expect any player to turn down that kind of money, regardless of their skill level.
Even worse, Perez has a much higher likelihood of staying on the team than Castillo. Because any lefty pitcher has at least marginal value--yes, even Perez--whereas Castillo's worth extends no further than the pain caused by his insane contract. I would not be surprised to see the Mets go north with Ollie in the bullpen, if only for a little while, whereas I see almost no way Castillo stays a Met. It's unfair, but then again, so is life.
This is not a cry for sympathy for Castillo, who will still make more money than I could in 10 lifetimes. Again, I would very much prefer that he not be on the Mets anymore, since I think all of the other second base options on the team's roster are a step up from him in every way. I just find it curious that he is suddenly public enemy number one among the fans, while a far more deserving candidate is throwing BP and escaping judgment.