Jim Bowden's ongoing hunt for the best bargains in baseball yesterday led the Washington Nationals' general manager to the doorstep of George Arias, a corner infielder who last played in the major leagues in 1999 and whose Japanese Central League team released him at the end of last season.
The Nationals signed Arias, 32, to a minor league contract with a spring training invite, figuring it was a low-risk gamble on a player whose power numbers soared overseas.
"I got some good reports on him from friends of mine who saw him play over there," said Bowden. "George really became a professional hitter over there. He made a lot of adjustments and was able to hit the breaking ball and do some good things."
Bowden said Arias would have a chance to make the team as the primary backup for third baseman Vinny Castilla, whom the team signed as a free agent in November.
Arias, a right-handed hitter, spent parts of four seasons in the majors from 1996 to 1999, hitting a combined .237 with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 173 games. In 1997, he was the player to be named in the trade that sent Rickey Henderson from the San Diego Padres to the Anaheim Angels.
After the 1999 season, Arias moved to Japan, where he turned into a power hitter who ranked among the league's top sluggers. In five seasons, the last three of which were spent with the Hanshin Tigers, he hit .261 with 159 homers and a 431 RBI in 622 games. His best season was 2003, when he hit 38 homers, drove in 107 runs and led the Tigers to their first Central League pennant in 18 years. However, after his numbers fell in 2004, the Tigers released him in October.
MARLINS: At his introductory news conference in Miami, Carlos Delgado said he'll continue to not stand up this season during the playing of "God Bless America."
An opponent of the war in Iraq, Delgado refused to stand when "God Bless America" was played last season at games involving his Blue Jays. Instead, he would stay on the bench or go into the dugout tunnel.
"I wouldn't call it politics, because I hate politics," Delgado said after finalizing his $52 million, four-year contract. "The reason why I didn't stand for 'God Bless America' was because I didn't like the way they tied 'God Bless America' and 9-11 to the war in Iraq in baseball.
"I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world."
ASTROS: All-star outfielder Lance Berkman, expected to miss the start of the season after hurting his knee playing flag football, avoided salary arbitration when he agreed to a $10.5 million, one-year contract with Houston.
WHITE SOX: Japanese infielder Tadahito Iguchi and Chicago completed their $4.95 million, two-year contract. Iguchi will make $2.3 million in 2005 and $2.4 million in 2006. Chicago has a $3.25 million option for 2007 with a $250,000 buyout.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.