Nationals send Castilla to Padres for Lawrence, cash

Updated: November 3, 2005, 10:24 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Third baseman Vinny Castilla was traded by the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres for right-hander Brian Lawrence and cash Thursday night.

The move paves the way for Ryan Zimmerman, the No. 4 overall pick in June's amateur draft, to start at third for the Nationals next season.

General manager Jim Bowden thanked Castilla "for his many contributions during our inaugural season," then added: "This trade, however, clears a path for Ryan Zimmerman, who we believe will be a fixture at the hot corner in Washington for years to come."

The Padres have long been looking for help at third. Sean Burroughs struggled so badly he was sent to the minors in July when the NL West champions acquired Joe Randa in a trade with Cincinnati. Randa filed for free agency after the season.

"In the 10 years I've been a general manager, I was tired of Vinny hitting home runs against us, either in Colorado or Washington," San Diego GM Kevin Towers said. "He's always been a Padres nemesis, not only from the offensive standpoint, but from a defensive standpoint. This guy, I think, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game."

The 38-year-old Castilla, hampered by knee tendinitis, hit .253 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIss in his first season with the former Expos. He led the NL in RBIss with Colorado in 2004, and signed a $6.2 million, two-year deal as a free agent with Washington last offseason.

But with Zimmerman's emergence -- he hit .397 with 10 doubles in 58 at-bats and made some impressive plays in the field as a September call-up -- Castilla's status in Washington wasn't certain. Late in the season, Castilla said he didn't want to stay with the Nationals as a backup.

"If I'm not starting, no," he said in September. "I signed for two years to start."

Lawrence gives the Nationals a durable starter as they try to rebuild a rotation that fell apart late last season. He went 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA in 33 starts for San Diego in 2005. He struck out 109 batters and walked 57 in 195 2-3 innings.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 49-61 with a 4.10 ERA in his five-year major league career. He threw at least 200 innings and won 10 games or more in every season from 2002-04 -- with a high of 15 wins in 2004.

"We are very pleased to add a dependable starter such as Brian Lawrence to our rotation," Bowden said. "No only does he have a reputation of going deep into games, but he has averaged 34 starts the last four seasons."

Lawrence is a groundball pitcher who could benefit from a Nationals defense that set a franchise record for fewest errors in a season.

A two-time All-Star with the Rockies, Castilla is a .278 career hitter in 15 major league seasons with 315 homers and 1,078 RBIss. He often put up prodigious power numbers at hitter-friendly Coors Field, but his production dropped off at spacious RFK Stadium last season -- and now he goes to another big home venue in San Diego's Petco Park.

That doesn't concern Towers.

"As we found out the last couple of years, right-handed power plays in Petco," he said.

Towers said he would keep trying to trade Burroughs, but if he is unable to work out a deal, the GM thinks Burroughs would make an adequate backup.

Zimmerman, who went to the University of Virginia, signed with the Nationals the day after the draft and had a short stay at Class-A before heading to Double-A. He made his major league debut as a pinch-hitter on Sept. 1, then got his first hit the next day.

On Sept. 20, he became the youngest player to bat cleanup for the Expos-Nationals franchise.


AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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