At this point of the spring, many of the scouts who started the Grapefruit League with coverage on Florida's Atlantic Coast have rotated to the opposite side of the state. Which means that several who have been bird-dogging the Phillies the past few days got an eyeful of Castillo at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie and the surrounding outposts.
And every one who has offered an opinion, at least a half dozen in all, reached the same conclusion:
Done. Washed up. Can't play anymore.
While it's true that scouts trend to the not-always-right-but-rarely-in-doubt side of the fence, their vehement unanimity was both impressive and persuasive.
Before it was officially announced that Castillo had in fact signed a minor league contract and would shortly be reporting to Clearwater for a look-see, one shrugged off the speculation. "The Phillies are smarter than that, aren't they?" he asked incredulously.
If anything, the backlash from back home was even more intense. Some fans seemed to view it as a panic move, confirming their worst fears about Utley's immediate future. Some seemed angry that the Phillies would even consider a 35-year-old who batted .235 last season for a dreadful Mets team and became a symbol of dysfunction at Citi Field.
For disgruntled customers in Queens to make Castillo the lightning rod for all their unhappiness about the ineffectiveness of Oliver Perez, the injuries to Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, the Bernie Madoff scandal and every other ill that has befallen their favorite team is obviously silly.
The Mets clearly weren't going to pay the $6 million they're on the hook for if they thought he had anything left, although general manager Sandy Alderson insisted more went into the decision than that. "[The fans were] a factor for us and I think it was a factor for Luis as well," he told reporters. "Realistically, one has to admit that these things come into play . . . I don't think there's any question that there's some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point."
But, most of all, for Phillies fans to waste a second fretting about this is a colossal waste of time.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said it best when asked about Castillo during yesterday's ESPN telecast of the Phillies' 4-1 win over the Red Sox at Bright House Field.
"If he can help us, he'll help us. If he can't, we'll release him," Amaro said plainly and simply.
Phillies scouts have been watching Castillo, too. Presumably, they saw the same thing scouts from the other teams did. So there are a couple of downsides here. One is the message that this signing sends to Michael Martinez, Josh Barfield, Delwyn Young and Pete Orr, all of whom have been competing for a roster spot this spring. It probably doesn't thrill Wilson Valdez, who would be expected to make most of the starts at second in Utley's absence. And, yeah, there certainly is a whiff of desperation about the whole situation.
Still, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind.
This is what teams do. It's called due diligence and the Phillies would be remiss if they didn't examine every chance to improve the team. It's the same reason that the Phillies were willing to give Matt Anderson, the former overall No. 1 draft choice who hasn't pitched in the bigs since 2005, a look.
Castillo doesn't have to be better than Utley. He only has to be better than any of the options currently in camp. And, who knows? Maybe a change of scenery will be just the lift he needs to rekindle his career.
And, if not, he'll be gone so quickly that he won't even rate a footnote in Phillies history.
That's probably the most likely endgame in l'affaire Castillo. But scouts sometimes make mistakes. And if they're wrong and Castillo still has something left and went somewhere else and had a big season while they continued to scramble to cover for Utley's absence, they'd be kicking themselves for not at least taking a look at him when they had a chance, wouldn't they?
He probably isn't the answer. But giving him a tryout is like chicken soup to someone with a bad cold. It can't hurt.
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