*With the season now just over a month away, Jorge Says No! will profile one pivotal player from each team. To often, players get lost in the shuffle of the big names and bright lights, so we focus on some of the under the radar guys who need to step it up in 2009 for their team to succeed.*
When the Mets acquired Castillo in 2007 from the Minnesota Twins, I thought he was going to be the perfect compliment to leadoff hitter Jose Reyes. Castillo, known primarily as a speedy slap hitter, could take lots of pitches in the #2 hole and get on base quite frequently, all of which would make the Mets lineup more potent in theory. For the latter half of 2007, Castillo actually played quite well for the Mets...well enough for GM Omar Minaya to hand Castillo a 4 year/$26 million dollar contract extension.
And from there, it was all downhill. Castillo was out of shape from the get go, spent almost two months on the DL, and looked old and slow on the diamond. The speedy slap hitter was replaced by an out of shape, gimpy man, who looked to be in severe pain just walking out to second base. By the end of the season, Castillo was getting booed mercilessly at Shea Stadium as he drifted into obscurity and into Mets fans' doghouse.
Fans began to view Castillo as a bust and demanded that Minaya get rid of the aging Castillo. However, Minaya decided to keep Castillo, banking on a resurgent season from the 33 year old second baseman. If Castillo can stay healthy and productive, the Mets lineup instantly becomes deeper, more potent, and one of the best in baseball. Castillo NEEDS to get on base to set the table for the heart of the Mets order (Wright, Delgado, Beltran) and take some of the pressure off of Jose Reyes at the top of the lineup.
In addition, Mets manager Jerry Manuel has discussed moving Castillo to the leadoff spot, which would allow Jose Reyes to hit third in the Mets order. Such a move would put even more pressure on Castillo to produce, but if he comes through, the Mets lineup would gain even more flexibility and potency.
Plain and simple, the Mets lineup improves tremendously with a healthy and productive Castillo. Yes, he is nothing more than a slap hitter and yes, his best days are probably behind him, but he is exactly the kind of table setter the Mets need. Having a second productive table setter is an aspect that Mets missed last season when Castillo got hurt, but if he rebounds, the results could be fantastic for the Mets.
The pressure is certainly on Castillo in 2009. If he fails to produce, he will be booed-alot. He will be labeled a bust by the NY media and Mets fans alike, while the Mets scramble to find a capable replacement. The Mets showed enough confidence in Castillo to keep him around, but they also made sure to sign a capable replacement, Alex Cora, to back up Castillo. Castillo will need to produce right away or a benching will certainly be in his future.
The spotlight's on, Luis Castillo.
What do you think, will Castillo produce in 2009?
*Coming up tomorrow, the Atlanta Braves.*