Can Castillo Play Under Manuel?

We’ve heard the buzz for some time, and now we’ve got it from the horse’s mouth.

“If Castillo remains with us, my job is to make him the best player he can possibly be.”

If Castillo remains with us? Are you kidding me? Is that a threat? A promise? Some kind of lament?

Certainly not exactly a ringing endorsement. Reading into that statement, it sounds like Jerry Manuel will not be pleased if Luis Castillo is a Met come spring training. If that indeed is the case, why would Manuel be so irresponsible as to say what he did? Didn’t he realize that the New York media would pounce all over it and broadcast it through every imaginable vehicle? And once that happened, how much more difficult is Omar Minaya’s job of finding Castillo a new home? It was already a near-impossible task, but now that any shred of doubt has been removed that his own manager would prefer that Castillo not return, how is Minaya supposed to make a deal?

Here’s what Manuel just did with that statement: established that the Mets either will have to start the season with Castillo at second base, or eat his entire contract. At best, they may be able to include him as a throw-in to a deal focusing on another player, AND eat at least 60% of the $18M left on his contract. Yes, the Mets have money to spend, but one thing the Wilpons hate to do is pay people who are not employed by the organization. And they’re already bristling at the thought of paying Willie Randolph and Billy Wagner next year.

But what’s really at issue here is a.) Manuel’s lack of support for someone on his team; and b.) Manuel’s consistently inconsistent stands on issues and his players. It began from his first day on the job, when he vowed to assign roles to the bullpen — then did the exact opposite. His reaction to Castillo has been similar. Back in June 2008, Manuel hoped that Luis Castillo would be a role model for Jose Reyes. And as recently as early November, Manuel said this about Castillo in The New York Times:

“Obviously, it was a difficult season for him,” Manuel said. “As we sit here today, I’m sure being the competitor that he is, he’ll try to do everything he can to impress the people in New York. Physically, he’s got to be ready, but I also think for him, mentally, too, because of the kind of things he had to endure, dealing with not playing and dealing with the reception he got.”

In a recent interview on SNY, Jon Heyman stated that Manuel “didn’t get along with him when he was in Florida, didn’t particularly like him, and would like him traded …”

Interesting quip by the heir apparent to Peter Gammons as “Mr. Inside Source”, but I have to take issue with Heyman’s statement — because Manuel coached Castillo for only one year, and it was OVER TEN YEARS AGO, when Castillo was a 21-year-old rookie. In fact, Castillo only played in 75 games that year. People can change, can’t they? Particularly immature kids in their early 20s? I’d be surprised if Manuel didn’t like Castillo today for the same reasons of a dozen years ago — and if he holds a grudge that long, I’d hate to think what happens if anyone else gets on his bad side.

While it’s nothing new to see a manager’s dislike for a current player become public, it is a strange move by a man who has yet to attain success as a field general. And by success I mean win a pennant. Manuel does have a ring from being the bench coach of the 1997 Marlins, but when fully in charge, his teams have repeatedly “just missed” — his White Sox finished in second place four times, in third once, and in first once. That one time they won the division, they were swept in three games by the Wild-Card Mariners.

My point here is, I don’t mind if Dick Williams calls out Steve Rogers, even if it’s a flawed decision — because Williams had won several titles and wore World Series rings. If Billy Martin says Larry Gura is a sissy, then I’m going to back Martin’s assessment. When Scott Rolen has issues playing for Tony LaRussa, guess whose next address is in Canada? And if Ozzie Guillen thinks Javier Vazquez isn’t a big-game pitcher, I do what Ken Williams does and jettison Javy. But when a consistent second-place finisher — and one whose mismanagement resulted in the second-worst late-season collapse in the franchise’s history — has a problem with one of his players … well, I’m sorry but his opinion doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as those who have led champions.

Jerry Manuel’s 2008 honeymoon ended in mid-September. The quotes that were cute last May and June won’t be so endearing in 2009 if the Mets aren’t sitting at the top of the division. Should the Mets open the season with Luis Castillo as the starting second baseman, how is that going to play out with Manuel? We’re three months away from spring training, and already Jerry wants him gone — so if he doesn’t go, there may be an internal problem to kick off Opening Day. Does it make sense to begin a season in turmoil? The uphill climb is hard enough after two straight collapses and improved competition.

Of course, this article becomes completely moot if Luis Castillo is moved this winter. But if he isn’t, this speck of a comment could snowball into an icy issue.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude December 5, 2008 at 5:01 pm
    I’m just not catching the “ill will” in Jerry’s quote. Nothing there jumps out at me as Jerry hating Castillo or wanting him off the team. Is it possible, as it has in the past, that the NY media is over-reacting and trying to create a story when there isn’t one? To me, Billy Wagner has said far more incindiary things than Manuel, yet you always were in Billy’s corner, Joe. Why does Jerry not get the same unconditional love?
  2. joe December 5, 2008 at 5:10 pm
    Actually, I don’t think the media has even begun to attack the ill will between Manuel and Castillo — there is a lot more there than has been reported.

    This has nothing to do with love. Billy Wagner can make remarks about teammates, but they don’t mean the same thing because he never had the power to play them or sit them. This is a manager who is clearly unhappy with one of his players, and making it public — not unlike the Guillen / Vazquez conflict.

    Let’s put it this way …. if your co-worker had disparaging remarks about you, is it a big deal? What if you overheard your boss say at the Christmas party, “well, IF isuzudude remains with us, I’ll make sure he’s part of the project … “

  3. isuzudude December 5, 2008 at 9:25 pm
    I see what you’re saying, Joe. But IF I had just completed one of my least productive years with the company, and IF I had been given a very nice salary when I was hired and had failed to live up to it, and IF I had been hearing it from multiple sources other than my boss that there was a good chance my relationship with the company was nearing an end, would this remark I overheard REALLY be that much of a surprise or a slap in the face?

    To me, the word “if” is being focused on way too much in this quote. For fairness sake, we should at least know what question was asked Manuel before we jump to conclusions. What if Jerry was asked, “so, Jerry, a lot of rumors have been flying around this winter of the possibility of Luis Castillo being traded. And as we saw and heard from the fans this season, Castillo probably would not be sorely missed if traded. But, if he does remain a member of the Mets, what would be your plans for him?” Jerry: “If Castillo remains with us, my job is to make him the best player he can possibly be.” Now does that really sound like Jerry is in full attack mode there?

    You should know I’m no defender for Castillo, and I’m as equally as tough on Jerry as you are. But calling it like I see it, I really think this quote is much ado about nothing. The fact that “reporters” have to dig up dirt on a Manuel/Castillo tift from 10 years ago shows the desperation in trying to build this shithouse story into a fabricated mega-scoop. I’m just not buying it. This screams out as yet another example of the NY media looking for ways to get the Mets on the back cover of the Daily News with some negative headline as to keep them as the city’s eternal second baseball team. I would hope you wouldn’t want to join in on the bashing parade.