WITH CASTRO GONE, THE SPOTLIGHT IS ON SANTOS

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WITH CASTRO GONE, THE SPOTLIGHT IS ON SANTOS
It came as no major shock that the Mets dealt catcher Ramon Castro to the White Sox for righthander Lance Broadway after last night’s win over the Marlins. Throughout the afternoon, rumors saturated the New York airwaves that the Mets had deemed Castro expendable, thanks to the solid play of Omir Santos in the absence of Opening Day starter Brian Schneider.

So with Schneider returning from the DL, a move had to be made. The Mets were not about to carry three catchers, especially with the lineup missing Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, and Ryan Church. Manager Jerry Manuel made no secret of his fondness of Santos, and consequently, Castro found himself the odd man out.

In many ways, dealing Castro was a sensible move. Santos (28) is considerably younger than Castro (33), has shown more pop in his bat than Castro this season, and is due a mere fraction of Castro’s $2.5 million salary. What is unclear at the moment is just how much of Castro’s salary the Mets will be on the hook for.

Assuming the White Sox will pay Castro the majority of what he is owed, his departure could be a precursor to a future trade, perhaps for a right-handed bat, or a starting pitcher if Oliver Perez is unable to get himself right in the minors. You might be wondering if a couple million dollars really means that much to the big-market, big-payroll Mets. But the Mets’ inactivity at the end of the offseason’s free agent frenzy should not go unnoticed. The market crashed so hard that players like Bobby Abreu and Orlando Hudson (who publicly proclaimed his desire to play for the Mets), were forced to accept one-year deals in the $3-5 million range. It was peculiar that the Mets seemed unwilling to even engage in any sort of serious dialogue at that point. It’s hard to blame the Mets for not making another big splash after signing Frankie Rodriguez and trading for J.J. Putz – but they never even put their swim trunks on. And if owner Fred Wilpon swears until he’s blue in the face that the incredible sum of money they lost in the Bernie Madoff scandal had no effect on baseball operations, it’s still not something I’m prepared to believe, at least not entirely.

The trade comes with one significant caveat – Santos has a much smaller body of work than Castro against big league pitching. In four years plus as a part-time catcher for the Mets, Castro consistently showed good power. Santos spent the entirety of his first seven pro seasons in the minor leagues, and in that time, never proved to be much of a hitter. It’s certainly possible that Santos has finally arrived, and Mets fans are witnessing the grand culmination of almost a decade of development, but he is far from a sure thing. By dealing Castro, the Mets showed considerable faith in a player with only 86 major league at-bats to his name.

But New York is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of town. The Mets woke up this morning in first place, a half game in front of rival Philadelphia. If they expect to remain there through this rash of injuries they’ve suffered, Santos will need to continue to play a part. He sure looked up to the task last night, driving in both Met runs with a solo homerun and the game-winning single in the 11th... Ramon who?
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