Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The Washington Nationals declined to offer salary arbitration to third baseman Tony Batista and catcher Einar Diaz before last night’s deadline, a couple of expected moves that ensures neither will be back with the club in 2005.

The Nationals had made it known for some time they had no plans to re-sign Batista or Diaz, each of whom has declared for free agency. Interim general manager Jim Bowden revealed as much last month when he signed third baseman Vinny Castilla and backup catcher Gary Bennett as free agents.

Still, Washington could have offered either player arbitration and thus received draft-pick compensation once the free agents signed with another club. Such a move would have been risky, though. If no teams wanted to sign Batista or Diaz, the Nationals would have been forced to keep them at their costly arbitration salaries.

Bowden briefly considered re-signing Batista, who led the club with 110 RBI and tied first baseman/outfielder Brad Wilkerson with 32 home runs despite a .241 average. But it became apparent early on that Washington wasn’t going to meet Batista’s salary demands, so Bowden let him walk and proceeded to sign Castilla to a two-year, $6.2million contract.

Diaz hit .223 in 55 games backing up starting catcher Brian Schneider last year and threw out just five of 27 base-stealers. Bowden also decided to let him walk before signing Bennett last week to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

Technically, the Nationals could re-sign Batista and Diaz if they don’t wind up playing elsewhere. Washington, though, would be forced to wait until May1 to bring them back.

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