Mets send two minor leaguers to Twins for Castillo

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NL East-leading New York Mets neatly
filled a big hole at second base, acquiring three-time All-Star
Luis Castillo from the Minnesota Twins for a pair of prospects

The 31-year-old Castillo will give the Mets three switch-hitters
at the top of their lineup when injured Carlos Beltran returns and
brings speed and a .304 average to a batting order already topped
by major league stolen base leader Jose Reyes. Castillo twice was
the NL steals leader, though bad knees have limited his running in
recent seasons.

A three-time Gold Glove winner who still has above-average
range, Castillo also should solidify the defense in a standout
infield with Reyes at shortstop, David Wright at third and
Carlos Delgado at first. Ruben Gotay had been playing second since
Jose Valentin broke a bone in his right leg when he fouled off a pitch
at Dodger Stadium on June 21.

Minnesota gets catcher Drew Butera, who will report to Double-A
New Britain, and outfielder Dustin Martin, who will go to Class-A
Fort Myers. The deal, which came together in less than 24 hours,
was completed one day before the deadline for making trades without

"With Valentin going down, this is a move we need to do," Mets
general manager Omar Minaya said. "For me, it's important to have
a guy to the right of Delgado to cover ground."

Beltran, who has not played in nearly a week because of a
strained oblique muscle, was unlikely to travel with the team to
Milwaukee in advance of Tuesday night's series opener and appeared
headed for the disabled list.

Also, the Mets and Cincinnati discussed a possible deal that
would send backup first baseman Jeff Conine to New York.

Castillo, who is making $5.75 million this season, can become a
free agent after the World Series. He has only nine stolen bases in
13 attempts and just 29 walks in 349 at-bats with 11 doubles, three
triples and 18 RBIs, but he has been one of only a handful of
consistent hitters for the Twins this year.

"He was going to be a guy that this winter we were probably
going to look at as a free agent," Minaya said. "Now we have a
better opportunity to look at him."

The Mets, who tied the crosstown Yankees for the best record in
baseball and were one win from the World Series last year, led the
surging Philadelphia Phillies by 3½ games and the Atlanta Braves by
4½ games in the NL East race when the day began.

"The division is going to be tough. The schedule is going to be
tough," Minaya said. "So we just wanted to let the players know
we're doing the best we can to give you guys an opportunity to

Twins general manager Terry Ryan said he's not giving up on the
season by shedding salaries of pending free agents. The defending
AL Central champions were seven games behind the Detroit Tigers in
the division race and 6½ games back of the Cleveland Indians in the
wild-card standings when the day began, but they were only two
games above .500 and struggling to find the offensive spark they
used to go 96-66 in 2006.

"I'm not feeling too good, because I like the team. I think it
can do a lot, and I had fun last year," said Castillo, who came in
a December 2005 trade with the Florida Marlins.

"It's a little hard, but I need to put it out of my mind and go
over there and do my thing, do the best I can do," Castillo said.

Butera is batting a combined .231 with six homers and 26 RBIs
this year at Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League and Class A
St. Lucie of the Florida State League. He's the son of former Twins
catcher Sal Butera. Martin is hitting a combined .289 with five
homers and 52 RBIs for St. Lucie and the Gulf Coast League Mets.

The Twins recalled infielder Alexi Casilla to replace Castillo,
though he wasn't able to make it in time to join Monday night's
lineup against the Kansas City Royals. Casilla hit .233 with two
RBIs and four stolen bases in 14 games earlier this year, showing
plenty of promise but also had several rough moments in the field.

With Casilla, current third baseman Nick Punto and top prospect
Matt Tolbert, Ryan said he's satisfied with what the team has at
second and third for the future. He also said he was comfortable
enough with Casilla that the Twins can still stay in the playoff
chase despite losing their leadoff hitter.

"No, we're not giving up at all," Ryan said. "We're
six-and-a-half games back, and we're better than we were last week.
If we didn't think we could absorb this, we certainly wouldn't have
done it."

The clubhouse was quiet while players and coaches came up for
hugs and handshakes with Castillo, and the Twins certainly weren't
happy to see one of their best players go.

"That's acceptable, and that's expected and I know that happens
within the confines of the clubhouse, but I have a job to do,"
Ryan said.

Manager Ron Gardenhire understood, echoing his boss's insistence
that the team was not giving up on contending in 2007.

"He's not dumping. He's rearranging, maybe to try to find
someone that might help us," Gardenhire said.