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Today's to be a notes column, both to cover a series of Cubs-related stuff after four straight days of catching Club Quade, and to comment on the conclusion of the other aria within the Mets' opera.

Let's start with the Mets, and their decision to release Oliver Perez today after cutting most of their ties with Luis Castillo on Friday. Even if these two sign elsewhere for the minimum, that's more than $17 million the Mets will be mailing off to wherever it is that the ex-Mets land—starting with forwarding Castillo's checks to the Phillies' camp, since he's signed a minor-league deal with Philly to help them with their burgeoning Chase Utley issue.

It's interesting that, in each instance, the Mets brass has elected to just be done with it, eating that much payroll to make a statement that the excesses of the Minaya team are a thing of the past. You can credit Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins with the courage to hang the expense and just start tossing major appliances onto the lawn, because if they don't work, there's no point in keeping them plugged in. If they're lucky, somebody else will haul their junk away; if they're unlucky, that somebody else will profit from it. They didn't needlessly extend the drama for another two weeks, and cutting both players now, at the earliest point of the serious cutdowns, does them the favor of lining up future gigs while doing the other last Mets standing the favor of sparing the remaining playing time for them.

Omar Minaya's legacy still hangs over this club's head, however. Just because the poster children for Minaya's incredible ability to misread a market for second-rank players have been neatly clipped out of the present, let's not pretend that the “new” Mets are that radically different from the old. This is still the team that is paying more than $31 million to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran for one more season apiece, hoping they perform well enough to bring prospects in return (or draft picks, should they depart by free agency after 2011). This is still the team stuck paying Jason Bay more than $18 million per annum for three more years, hoping that he doesn't conjure up any more (unfair) comparisons to Kevin McReynolds. This is still the team lamenting its relationship with Francisco Rodriguez.

In short, the Mets still have the payroll of a stars-and-scrubs exercise, but it's one where the scrubs aren't—Ike Davis and Josh Thole are building blocks—and the dim light shining from these guttering stars unavoidably casts Minaya's shadow in the present and on into the near future.

All in all, Luis Castillo may rather be in Philadelphia, but for the Phillies this is a worthwhile exercise to see if there's anything there. Even if Castillo is reduced to getting on base and playing a clumsy second, the first is something the Phillies need with Utley ailing, the latter something they can afford with their high-strikeout starting staff that will keep balls in play to a minimum. Yes, the right side of their infield will be brutally bad, but even an imperfect solution beats spinning their wheels with Wilson Valdez.

Jake Peavy's “breakdown” is news insofar as it seemed as if the combination of a hard-working hurler and Herm Schneider's training staff could alter the initial expectations that he'd miss time this year. Now, between his shoulder tendinitis and a dose of the flu, those expectations seem prescient. It was easy to get caught up in the wishcast that Peavy would get more than 26 starts, but right now, that's looking reasonable—if he doesn't have any other major setbacks, because that's basically allowing for a month off. The problem is that, even with his excellent effort to come back fast despite this stumble, we can't be especially sure. We ought to accept that he may never be the workhorse of old, since that's someone we haven't seen since 2007. If he can at least be a high-maintenance show horse, the Sox should have the rotation depth to afford getting what they can once he's ready.

Four straight days of watching the Cubs—with a fifth in the offing if today's game against the Angels isn't rained out—has left me with a couple of key takeaways.

  • Starlin Castro's ETA for stardom is going to be sooner rather than later. Comparisons to Edgar Renteria might seem aggressive, and Cactus action involves inflated power tallies, but he's hitting the ball with authority. Pretty much all across its spread of expectations for him, PECOTA has Castro's ISO pegged around .100, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if that comes up to .120. Also, while the second-base mess has been muddling along towards its denouement, Castro has looked much more sure in the field.

  • It's easy to pick nits: Castro walks less than you'd like, and maybe you're worried about whether he'll steal bases. But here I'd remind people that Castro walked 5.6 percent last year, in his age-20 season, while Renteria walked 6.5 percent in his age-20 campaign. Renteria was faster, but hit with less power. All of which goes to say the comparison was facile: Castro won't be a '90s Trinity-grade shortstop, but he'll rank among his league's best. Watching him grow into that in fairly short order should reward Cubs fans with a source of reliable joy for years to come.

  • The second-base mess isn't gaining a whole lot of clarity with less than two weeks to go before Mike Quade has to deliver his final answer for Opening Day. Blake DeWitt has looked brutal in the field even as he's struggled to deliver at the plate. He's optionable, and Quade has already commented on his preference for hanging onto people he might otherwise lose, and optioning out those people he can. Which leads me to wonder if this isn't the situation where Bobby Scales gets his big break, in his age-33 season, after eight years of Triple-A relieved only by his extended '09 stint on Lou Piniella's bench. Like Jeff Baker, Scales is a six-position player, which would give Quade a ton of in-game options for switching, mixing, and matching. As a switch-hitter, Scales would be the yin to Baker's yang in whatever job-sharing or platoon arrangement Quade constructs. He'd provide more power than DeWitt, and it's hard to see how he'd be a worse defender. And perhaps it's telling that Scales is projected for a .259 True Average, to DeWitt's .254.

  • In talking about his bench selections, Quade has been generous in his praise of Scales, but also of Scott Moore, noting that he can play all four positions. It still seems as if Darwin Barney's the utility infielder, because Augie Ojeda's injured, but Quade pointedly noted yesterday that Moore can play all four positions—including shortstop.

  • The expectation that the bullpen might rate amongst the league's best is worth further investigation. You can understand the broad-strokes argument: add Kerry Wood to Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall, hope that John Grabow comes back and gives them a useful situational lefty, and hope that live arms like those attached to Jeff Samardzija and Marcos Mateo fulfill their promise in low-leverage middle-relief roles. We'll see about that, but I'm hoping that we can cover this topic in more depth later in the week, expanding the conversation to cover all 30 teams' projected bullpen performance.

  • In yesterday's post-game gaggle, Quade offered a useful reminder that Randy Wells is, after all, a converted position player, so his ability to make adjustments and become a better starting pitcher than you might expect doesn't seem unwarranted. While Quade wouldn't commit to naming Wells to the rotation, that seemed very much a matter of being polite to Wells' rivals. Quade commented that Wells' trust in his sinker and ability to get strikes with his changeup versus lefties were big keys in yesterday's seven-strikeout performance.

Notes columns are necessarily something of a pastiche, and make for a contrast with the Groundhog Day life of the beat*, as far as I'm qualified to comment on that. However, watching one team again and again might represent microhistory of a sorts, and I'm looking forward to today's fifth Cubs game in a row—weather permitting—which promises to add Andrew Cashner's latest spin to the mix.

* Exacerbating the experience is my inability to make the rental car's USB access to my iPod do anything but play the same 20 songs, in the same order. As much as I love Siouxsie singing “Pluto Drive,” listening to it every day for two weeks has managed to make the repetitive quality of camp even more so.

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Can you just become the Cubs beat writer?

Would it be so horrible to have Michael Young be the second baseman? If the Cubs win the division and he walks and talks like a big leaguer it's justified no? Cause really, Scales & Baker at 2nd? That's a last place team type choice.
My apologies if I've been a bit Cubs-centric, but there are sort of professional reasons for that as well--it's worthwhile to become a regular in a particular box.

Setting aside the considerable issue of the potential expense of employing him (the Rangers presumably providing some sort of offsets in unloading an asset), there's also the concern over whether or not Young could play second base all that much. I like the idea in the abstract, but between the expense and the questions about his defense--questions similar to those that might already cost Blake DeWitt his shot at retaining the second-base job--aren't easily wished away.