In perhaps one of his strongest moves since letting John Franco walk, Mets GM Omar Minaya his discarded utility man / inexplicable fixture Joe McEwing. From the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte.

The Mets yesterday released a bottom-of-the-roster player who had averaged three home runs, 21RBI and a .243 batting average over the five seasons he played for them.

So why did Mike Piazza deem it “a sad day” for the franchise?

Joe McEwing, who once earned the nickname “Super Joe” for his everyman contributions to Mark McGwire’s Cardinals in 1999, clearly had the same effect with Mets fans and his teammates since his arrival in 2000.

All you had to see to understand the popular utilityman’s importance to the team, David Wright said, was the line of teammates and staffers waiting to shake his hand after news of McEwing’s inevitable release made its way through the clubhouse.

“You anticipate everything, you try to gear yourself mentally for it, but it’s still a shock,” McEwing said. “I had five wonderful years in New York … and it’s a great place to play.

“I’ve been there for the good and been there for the bad. With the team we have now, it’s going to be good again. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be a part of that.”

McEwing, who has been resigned to this fate for weeks, met with GM Omar Minaya on Wednesday and was given the option of being released now with the opportunity to catch on with another team, or to stick around and eventually head to the minors as insurance. With recently signed infielders Miguel Cairo and Chris Woodward slated to make the team, and with Marlon Anderson and Jeff Keppinger also still in camp, McEwing agreed it was time to move on.

“We offered if he wanted to stay … out of respect for him and what he’s done for the organization. We gave him the choice,” Minaya said. “But the numbers were really stacked against him.”

That always has been the case for McEwing, who stuck around by playing all four infield positions and all three outfield positions during his 502-game career with the Mets.

Just as important, however, was the mentoring role he assumed in the clubhouse. McEwing instantly took Wright under his wing after the prized third baseman arrived at Shea last summer. He also regularly spent time with Kaz Matsui at and away from the ballpark, easing the Japanese infielder’s transition to the majors last season.

“He’s become like a big-brother figure to me,” Wright said. “He’s going to be missed and I wish him the best. I know he’s going to go and make another clubhouse very happy.”

If nothing else, we now have a somewhat satisfactory reason for McEwing’s long tenure with the Mets. Along with his ability to do many things (hitting not being amongst them), everyone loved him to death. But as Minaya continues to put his stamp on this team, it is clear that old cronyism is going to mean less than whether or not a player contributes. If McEwing has the potential to coach or manage, by all means, groom him for such a role. But for years, many have wondered if there wasn’t someone else more deserving of his roster spot and just how the Mets managed to have so little depth.