TALENT, NOT experience, must be served.
So, the Phillies yesterday released 35-year-old second baseman Luis Castillo.
The move effectively guaranteed a roster spot to 28-year-old Rule 5 utility man Michael Martinez and made 32-year-old defensive wizard Wilson Valdez the starting second baseman.
The remaining roster spot among position players went to Pete Orr. Delwyn Young will open the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley. So will longshot reliever Michael Stutes.
Orr and Young, both on minor league contracts, had similar springs. Young, an outfielder who hits righthanded, might have a more threatening bat. However, lingering issues with third baseman Placido Polanco's surgically repaired elbow might give Orr an edge, team sources indicated. Orr, a lefthanded hitter, has mainly played second and third base.
Asked what more he could have done this spring, Young replied, "Hit .400?"
Young, 28, hit .258. Orr, 31, hit .286 and led the Grapefruit League with five triples, including one yesterday.
"He wore out that right-centerfield gap," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
If Martinez hadn't made the 25-man roster, he would have been offered back to the Nationals.
Final cuts needed to be announced by 11 a.m. today. Released a day early, Castillo will have a chance to hook up with another club. The Phillies had seen enough.
"It's a testament to the people we have here," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "We felt the people we have, in-house, could help us more."
In search of a replacement for injured All-Star Chase Utley, the Phillies signed Castillo to a minor league deal March 20 after the Mets cut him. He had cleared waivers, which made the Mets responsible for the $6 million he was owed this season. Castillo, abysmal for the Mets in 2010, would have cost the Phillies just $414,000 to retain.
However, Castillo's speed, range and bat, once his hallmarks, did not impress the Phillies more than the performance, the potential and the versatility of the other contenders. Castillo was 6-for-22 (.273) with four walks in seven games. Valdez was 19-for-63 (.302).
Asked what Castillo could have done to make the team, Amaro replied, "I'm not going to get into that."
Asked the same question, Manuel was more informative.
"We wanted to see who he was," Manuel said. "Valdez played such a good role last year on our team, and he can play multiple positions. So can Martinez. He's been very intriguing.
"And we are planning on getting Utley back," Manuel said, implying that Castillo might have had a better shot if the Phillies sought a longer-term solution.
The Phillies hope Utley will be over his right knee tendinitis within a month or 2.
Until then, Valdez, who played in 111 games last season, gets another chance to start on Opening Day (he opened the 2005 season as the Mariners' shortstop). And Martinez gets a chance to prove he belongs in the major leagues.
Neither was sweating out cutdown day.
"I'm happy for the opportunity that they're giving me. I have to do what I did last year. Or better," Valdez said.
Valdez hit .258 with four homers and 35 RBI and was, at times, marvelous in the field as an injury replacement for Utley (thumb) and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (calf). Manuel stressed the timeliness of some of Valdez' hits, and he insisted he would play Valdez anywhere on the field - just like Martinez.
Through an interpreter, Martinez said he figured that if he couldn't crack the Phillies' infield, he'd find a spot in the outfield. He played all three outfield spots at Triple A Syracuse last year, as well as shortstop, second base and third base.
Right now, Manuel wants to see Martinez play infield. Playing shortstop on Saturday, Martinez made four plays against the Tigers that cemented Manuel's affection - one play in particular, in the hole, that Manuel gushed, "Might be the best play I've ever seen."
Manuel insisted that Martinez is a better hitter than his .233 average this spring and his .263 average in five minor league seasons suggest.
"He definitely has the talent to be a good big-league player," Manuel said.