Twins deal veteran Castillo to Mets

Twins deal veteran Castillo to Mets

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins clubhouse had been patiently waiting for a sign over the past couple days. The one that would dictate just what direction Twins general manager Terry Ryan would take heading into this year's trade deadline.

That message seemed to come across pretty clear when the club announced prior to Monday's game against the Royals that it had dealt second baseman Luis Castillo to the Mets in exchange for two Minor League prospects.

Or at least it did to the players.

"It's hard to lose a guy like that," closer Joe Nathan said. "It can't help but hurt everything."

The mood inside the clubhouse was decidedly somber following the move. And it had to do with more than just players saddened by losing one of their teammates.

Besides adding his veteran presence both on the field and in the clubhouse, Castillo had been one of the more consistent hitters on the team this season. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Castillo was batting .304 with a .357 on-base percentage as the club's primary leadoff hitter.

So with the Twins just seven games back of the Tigers in the American League Central race and 6 1/2 out of the Wild Card, the decision to move the veteran player seemed to be taken by the team as a sign that the club had chosen to put their focus on the 2008 season rather than this year.

But Ryan vehemently denied that notion.

"We're not giving up at all," Ryan said. "We're 6 1/2 games back, and we're better than we were a week ago. If we didn't think we could absorb this, I certainly wouldn't have done that. Now I know the perception sometimes when you give up a veteran player in late July is that it may not look good. But I still think we can absorb this."

Ryan said the talks between the club and the Mets regarding Castillo have been in the works since July 20, when the Mets lost starting second baseman Jose Valentin. Valentin suffered a season-ending injury when he fouled a pitch off his leg, breaking his shin. But the deal only came together in the past 24 hours, just one day before Tuesday's 3 p.m. CT deadline.

It's clear the move is set for the future. Despite taking the final two months of Castillo's $5.75 million salary off the books, the Twins in return received two prospects who are considered to be a ways off from contributing to the big-league club.

The two prospects the Twins received in the deal are catcher Drew Butera, the son of former Twins catcher Sal Butera, and outfielder Dustin Martin.

Butera, 23, was the Mets' fifth-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. After starting the season at Class A St. Lucie, he was promoted to Double-A Binghamton on June 22. He's batting .231 in 82 Minor League games this season. He will be assigned to Double-A New Britain.

Martin, 23, was selected by the Mets in the 26th round of the 2006 Draft. In 93 games this season, Martin is batting .287 with 22 doubles and 52 RBIs. He will be assigned to Class A Ft. Myers.

To replace Castillo as the club's everyday second baseman, the Twins promoted infielder Alexi Casilla from Triple-A Rochester. Casilla, who was hitting .269 with the Red Wings, will be making his second appearance with the Twins this season.

Nick Punto got the start at second base on Monday night, as Casilla was unable to make it to Minnesota by game time.

Having Casilla and Punto as options at second base, along with prospect Matt Tolbert, Ryan said was a big part in making the deal at this time rather than waiting to watch Castillo leave after the season.

"I didn't anticipate re-signing him at the end [of the season], so we ended up getting a couple players in return before October," Ryan said. "If you've got people in your system you have confidence in, you give them an opportunity. And sometimes it works out for the better."

The move was not finalized until late in the afternoon. Castillo was on the field during batting practice when bench coach Steve Liddle tapped him on the shoulder and led him upstairs to the clubhouse, where the news was delivered.

Castillo said when the club's lineup failed to appear for most of the afternoon, he had a feeling something might be happening. Castillo, who joined the Twins following a December 2005 trade, seemed to take the news pretty hard, speaking to reporters with watery eyes.

"The hardest part for me is I think this team is still fighting -- we're still in the race," Castillo said. "I've seen this team come back 10 games before, and now we're 6 1/2 games. I think this team can turn around; we can get better. It was a surprise. I've been waiting for him to make a decision, and he made it."

Castillo wasn't the only one to take the news hard, as his manager seemed equally upset by having to say goodbye to his second baseman.

"Today was very emotional with Luis," manager Ron Gardenhrie said. "We are all going to miss Luis -- the way he came to the ballpark, limped around and the enthusiasm he brought. But we're going to have to move on and do the best we can."

Ryan didn't rule out the possibility of adding another player before Tuesday's 3 p.m. CT deadline. But whether the team makes another move at this point, Gardenhire says is irrelevant when it comes to how his team will approach the rest of the season.

"We're going to try to get back to the playoffs," Gardenhire said. "That's what we're going to try to do, no matter who is out there on the field. And that's what everybody's goal should be out there in the clubhouse."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.