D.C.-Bound Expos Sign Castilla, Guzman

Tuesday, November 16th 2004, 7:34 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For a team without a budget, the Expos made a big early splash in free agency. In their first major moves since announcing their relocation to Washington, the Expos on Tuesday agreed to terms with third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Castilla will receive a $6.2 million, two-year contract, while Guzman gets a $16.8 million, four-year deal. Jim Bowden, hired as general manager on Nov. 2 to replace Omar Minaya, made the moves even though he hasn't been told how much money he can spend by the commissioner's office, which is operating the team until it is sold.

``We do not have a budget, but we're trying to send this franchise in the right direction,'' Bowden said. ``We couldn't wait to make these moves. We wanted to make sure we had a shortstop with his prime years ahead of him. ... If you have to cut in other areas, you cut in other areas. But we feel those two players will fit into our budget.''

Castilla, 37, hit .271 with 35 homers and an NL-leading 131 RBIs last season for Colorado, the best season for the two-time All-Star since he was with the Rockies in the 1990s. Castilla also has played for Atlanta, Houston and Tampa Bay, and has 303 career home runs.

Guzman, a 26-year-old switch-hitter, batted .274 for Minnesota last season with eight homers, 46 RBIs and 10 steals, and he led AL shortstops with a .983 fielding percentage.

``The nice thing about this is that two big holes on the left side of the infield are filled,'' manager Frank Robinson said. ``It was nice to go out and fill those holes in a short period of time with quality players.''

Castilla will receive $3 million in 2005 and $3.2 million in 2006. His agent, Eric Goldschmidt, said Castilla wanted to stay in the National League and avoid the top-heavy Central Division. Goldschmidt also was impressed with Bowden's plans to turn the Expos around quickly.

``I know Jim is an aggressive guy,'' Goldschmidt said. ``And I know he'll improve the club greatly.''

Castilla's signing signals that the Expos have given up on keeping their sole marquee free agent, third baseman Tony Batista, who hit 32 home runs with 110 RBIs last season.

``They made an offer to us that was not in our ballpark in length or in dollars,'' Bowden said.

Bowden got a similar response when pursuing Corey Koskie, Guzman's teammate with the Twins, so he worked the deal with Castilla, who declined a $2.1 million mutual option with Colorado.

Castilla's signing also met with approval from Robinson, who wanted some veteran leadership for a young roster.

``That's very important for me,'' Robinson said. ``You have to have a presence in the clubhouse. It just can't be management and the coaches.''

The Twins declined a $5.25 million option on Guzman's contract for 2005. He will receive $4.2 million in each of the next four seasons with the Expos.

``I think he did quite well. I can't hardly blame him for taking that,'' Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan said.

Guzman had been plagued by injuries since becoming an All-Star in 2001, but he rebounded this year with his most consistent season.

``I'm sad. He's done very well for this organization,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``We're going to miss him dearly. There's not much we can do about it.''

Baseball owners announced the Expos' move on Sept. 29 and are set to approve the relocation Thursday. The deal is subject to the District of Columbia government enacting funding by Dec. 31 for a new ballpark.

The Expos are owned by the other 29 teams, although baseball recently began the process of selling the team. The franchise is also expected to be renamed by the commissioner's office before the end of the year.