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Castillo, Bucs avoid arbitration

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Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007

Jose Castillo has a new contract. Now, he all he has to do is reclaim his spot in the lineup.

The Pirates and Castillo, on Wednesday, agreed to a $1.9 million, one-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration.He can earn an additional $20,000 for 570 plate appearances and $30,000 for 590 plate appearances.

Castillo was the team's last arbitration-eligible player to come to terms. He had asked for $2.2 million, and the Pirates offered $1.8 million.

"The dollars were closer than in most cases, but you never know how these things are going to go," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "All that counts is that you agree to terms. We're happy, and he is, as well."

Last season, Castillo, 25, set career highs in practically every offensive category, but he also batted a career-low .253 and made 18 errors.

The Pirates have made it clear that Castillo will battle Jose Bautista during spring training for a starting job. If Castillo underperforms, Freddy Sanchez could move to second base and Bautista would play third.

Castillo already seems to be warming to the challenge. He was outstanding in the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .308 with 13 doubles and five home runs. In 46 games, he drove in 40 runs and stole five bases.

Playing for his native Venezuela in the just-completed Caribbean Series, Castillo batted. 333 with six doubles in five games.

A few Pirates scouts, including assistant GM Doug Strange, were on hand to see Castillo play in the winter league.

"Jose made some adjustments at the plate, and he's working the count better," Littlefield said. "He's showing better concentration."

Littlefield added that Castillo has lost weight since the end of last season, and appears to have more mobility in the field.

"That's a good sign," Littlefield said.

During winter ball, Castillo played third base, right field and left field in addition to his usual second base spot.

"That gives us some options," Littlefield said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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