- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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The news was so long overdue, it didn't feel newsy at all Monday when the New York Mets finally released pitcher Oliver Perez 48 hours after cutting fellow scapegoat Luis Castillo, eating the $18 million remaining on their bad contracts.
It's a staggering bit of money when you consider it equates to nearly two-thirds of the $25 million emergency loan the Mets got from Major League Baseball last year. But something the moves could signify has been far more overlooked -- and more interesting.
Could this finally be a sign that much-maligned Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon are keeping the promises they made during that painful, self-flagellating news conference they held in October when they fired general manager Omar Minaya?
Remember when stricken-looking Fred Wilpon said, "The buck stops with me," and his equally morose son added it was time for them to go out and find some "fresh thinking" and "new ideas" to "re-energize" the franchise -- and then get the hell out of the way?
Is this not a sign the Wilpons are keeping their word? A rare glimmer of hope -- I can't believe I'm going to write this -- that from now on, the Mets may be actually run better, for a change?
I say that because historically, even before the Bernie Madoff scandal left the Wilpons and fellow owner Saul Katz fighting for their financial lives, the Mets had been extremely loathe to eat bad contracts. It was always among the things that made them look like they didn't really play with the other big boys in the league who admit mistakes and cut ties with players for performance reasons, even when that means taking a financial hit. That aversion is also why the Wilpons were often accused of being meddling owners whose GMs were not really in charge.
The Perez and Castillo cases were perfect examples. The fact that the Mets didn't get rid of them before now was due to a lack of organizational will more than any misplaced belief in their faded ability. To release one or both of them last season when the fans' attitudes toward both players were every bit as virulent as now would have been an admission of a mistake by Minaya, whose job security was already shaky because he lavished those inexcusable contracts on the players in the first place.
Minaya never recommended releasing either player -- or so the Wilpons claimed the day he was fired. And so, the Wilpons added, lacking that recommendation from their chief baseball man, they never had to make such an expensive decision -- though you know and I know the idea might have independently occurred to them had they, say, merely thrown open an office window on any given night at Cifi Field and heard 30,000 fans-turned-GMs voicing their opinion: Get rid of both Castillo and Perez. Now.
The booing of Perez and Castillo went on for months.
So if the Mets were loathe to make these kinds of moves before, what does it say about the influence new general manager Sandy Alderson and his front-office team of former GMs have on the Wilpons to do the right-but-hideously-expensive thing now, even in these frightening financial times for ownership?
Alderson may have been more deliberate in making both decisions than some would've liked. But even that resoluteness about making up his own mind in his own time, then having the latitude to make the moves he wanted to make, is -- I hope I don't laugh at myself someday for writing this, too -- encouraging.
The argument for keeping Castillo rather than letting the fans "fire" him wouldn't have been uttered at all if one of the other second baseman candidates had impressed anybody; what that argument also ignores is the other candidates still might. But the 35-year-old Castillo? No. His legs are shot. His range is gone. He is what he is, and he had to go.
There's nothing wrong with Alderson letting the final tipping point being the toxic treatment Castillo got and the "closure" that Mets outfielder Jason Bay said it provided for the rest of the team, which was tired of the overblown, often nonsensical drama too.
Players are moved along for the change-of-scenery reason all the time. There's no reason to fear that by doing it this time, the Mets are setting some "bad precedent" and they'll be sucked into the vortex again and again, and doomed to repeat letting fans determine the roster forevermore.
Oft-scalded Mets fans would answer they are the Mets, you know.
But this was different. The Mets' new front office looks smarter. And the Wilpons, as promised, got the hell out of the way at the most difficult time in franchise history. They finally got past the embarrassment, the disappointment, the self-loathing and whatever else they were feeling by Minaya's firing in October, listened to the other voices they invited in, and ate that $18 million in bad deals over the weekend at a time when money is tighter than ever.
After the beating the Wilpons have taken for months -- some of it tumbling out of their own mouths -- at least give them some props for that. They finally did the right thing.
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