GM Bowden's first additions significant
WASHINGTON -- The Expos made their first big splash since announcing their move to Washington, agreeing Tuesday to a $6.2 million, two-year contract with third baseman Vinny Castilla and a $16.8 million, four-year deal with shortstop Cristian Guzman.
"The nice things 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, 37, hit .271 with 35 homers and an NL-leading 131 RBI last season for Colorado, the best season for the two-time All-Star since he was with the Rockies in 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 last season with eight homers, 46 RBI and 10 steals, and he led AL shortstops with a .983 fielding percentage.
"I think he did quite well," said Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan, who spoke with Guzman's agent, Stan King, this week but did not make a formal offer. "I can't hardly blame him for taking that. This is certainly something that we weren't going to be able to compete with."
The signings were the first major moves by Jim Bowden, hired as general manager on Nov. 2 to replace Omar Minaya, who became GM of the New York Mets. Bowden said he hasn't been told how much money he can spend by the commissioner' 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 will receive $3 million in 2005 and $3.2 million in 2006. His 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 RBI last season.
Castilla's 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."
"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 clubhouse 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, and he will receive $4.2 million in each of the next four seasons.
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 expected to be renamed by the commissioner's office before the end of the year. The franchise is owned by the other 29 teams, although baseball recently began the process of selling the team by soliciting feelers from potential buyers.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press