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Braves sign Castilla to two-year, $8M deal

ATLANTA -- Free-agent third baseman Vinny Castilla agreed
Saturday to an $8 million, two-year contract with the Atlanta
Braves, allowing five-time NL All-Star Chipper Jones to move to
left field.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for the 34-year-old Castilla,
who is expected to add some punch to the Braves lineup. He began
his minor league career with the Braves organization in 1990.

Castilla, released early last season by Tampa Bay after hitting
only .215 with two home runs and nine RBI in 24 games, signed with
Houston and hit .270 with 23 homers and 82 RBI in 122 games for
the Astros.

Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said Castilla would
likely play third base and that Jones would move to left.

B.J. Surhoff, who played left field last season, could either be
switched to first base or be traded.

"We've always had high regard for Castilla," Schuerholz said.
"When he joined the Astros earlier this year, he demonstrated the
ability offensively and defensively to play on a playoff-caliber
team."

Castilla, an All-Star in 1995 and 1998 when he was with the
Colorado Rockies, has a batting average of .288 with 234 home runs
and 744 RBI in 1,187 games in his career of 10-plus years.

The Braves are hoping Castilla can add some offense that
struggled most of last season with an offense that scored just 729
runs.

"I'm very excited to come back to the Braves, the team that
gave me my first chance in the big leagues," Castilla said. "It's
great to be joining a team that has a good shot at the playoffs
every year."

Castilla played in 21 games with the Braves in 1991-92 before
being selected in the expansion draft by Colorado. He was traded to
Tampa Bay as part of a nine-player, four-team trade in December
1999.

Castilla gets $3.5 million next season and $4.5 million in 2003.