A's add Loaiza to the pitching mix
Two-time All-Star right-hander signs three-year contract
OAKLAND -- In a move that's sure to increase the speculation that lefty Barry Zito will be dealt this winter, the A's on Monday brought to seven the number of big-league starters on their roster when they announced the signing of free-agent righty Esteban Loaiza to a three-year deal through 2008 reported to be worth more than $21 million.
Oakland general manager Billy Beane, however, warned against assuming that Zito -- or any of the club's starters, for that matter -- are on the way out.
"This was an opportunity to add a player without subtracting one," Beane said at a press conference to introduce Loaiza to the Bay Area media. "I wouldn't necessarily read anything into this that this is a precursor for anything that's coming down the pike."
Nonetheless, acquiring Loaiza to a long-term deal -- it includes a club option for 2009 -- a week prior to the start of baseball's annual Winter Meetings, Dec. 5-8 in Dallas, likely will make Beane every bit as popular next week as he was at the 2004 meetings, where he laid the groundwork for the deals that sent Tim Hudson to Atlanta and Mark Mulder to St. Louis.
And Beane stopped well short of issuing a guarantee that Zito, whose contract expires after the 2006 season, will be wearing green and gold come spring.
"In our marketplace, in our position, we're always going to listen [to trade offers from other teams]," he said. "We're always going to do that."
Beane said he'd spoken with Zito's agent, Arn Tellem, on Monday morning, although it wasn't to discuss a possible contract extension. Zito, reached by phone, said he'd spoken with one of Tellem's top assistants Monday and heard nothing to suggest that he won't be with Oakland next season.
"He didn't say anything about me being traded, so I'm assuming I won't be," Zito offered. "I'm expecting to be on the same staff next year as Esteban, and I'm excited about it."
In addition to Loaiza, the A's have their entire 2005 starting rotation of Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Kirk Saarloos, as well as midseason pickup Joe Kennedy, on their 40-man roster and either signed for next season (Zito, Harden, Haren) or under club control (Blanton, Saarloos, Kennedy).
Loaiza, Beane said, will be part of the 2006 starting rotation, and he essentially put an "untouchable" tag on young righties Harden, Blanton and Haren. That means Saarloos and Kennedy, should they remain with the team, are ticketed for the bullpen. Saarloos was a closer in college and has been a reliever at various times in Houston and Oakland. Kennedy made 11 relief appearances for the A's after being acquired in an All-Star break deal with Colorado, but finished the year as Harden's injury replacement in the rotation.
"You can never have enough pitching," Beane said. "This not only gives us depth in the rotation, it strengthens our bullpen."
Asked point-blank if he planned on trading a starter, he replied, "We don't have to. That's the good thing."
According to The Associated Press, Loaiza's deal includes a $3 million signing bonus, spread out over a payment schedule, and yearly salaries of $5 million for 2006, $6 million for 2007 and $7 million for 2008. The option for 2009 is at $7.5 million, with a $375,000 buyout.
Loaiza, who said the A's beat out their cross-bay rivals, the Giants, in the bidding for his services, made $2.9 million last season with the Nationals and turned down their offer of two years and $8 million.
"I never thought that I was gonna get what I'm getting," he admitted.
That he's getting so much is what's sure to have Beane fielding Zito questions -- from the media and other teams -- for the next couple of weeks. It started in earnest on Monday, and while Beane joked that his less-than-definitive answers to such questions were "cop-outs" and "sneaky," he reminded reporters that the A's haven't been averse to letting a star play out the final year of his contract in recent years.
"People are going to look at the Hudson and Mulder situations here and say, 'Oh, they have to do something [with Zito] now,'" he said. "But you can go back to the years when we had [Jason] Giambi and Miggy [Tejada] in the final year of their contracts, too. If we feel like we're in a position to win the division, we're not afraid to keep a guy we think will help us do that.
|"With Barry, Esteban, Rich, Danny and Joe, we have one of the best, if not the best, starting rotations in the American League."|
|-- Billy Beane|
Zito, who will make close to $8 million in 2006, agreed. He also noted that the apparent precedent set by the Hudson and Mulder trades doesn't necessarily apply to his situation.
"Here's the way I look at it: The only teams that are going to want to trade for me are teams that are pretty sure they're going to sign me to a long-term deal, because they're not going to want to pay my salary for a one-year thing," he explained. "And I know that with the Huddy and Mulder deals, before they were made, there had already been some talks with Atlanta and St. Louis about being able to keep those guys around. There haven't been any of those kinds of talks in my situation."
Asked if he thought the A's would have the money to re-sign Zito, Beane was again evasive, saying, "I couldn't say, because I don't know how much it's gonna take to re-sign Barry Zito."
Beane added that the addition of Loaiza to the payroll won't stop the A's from trying to acquire another hitter, but he did concede that he's looking to the trade market first in that quest.
A's catcher Jason Kendall, who played with Loaiza briefly when they were in Pittsburgh together and faced him last season when the A's visited Washington, applauded the signing.
"He's always had a real loose arm, a great arm," Kendall said by phone from Hawaii. "But in Pittsburgh he was throwing 95-96 [mph], and he was throwing a lot of sliders. Now he's added a cutter that he can move in on righties, away from righties, in on lefties, away from lefties. You don't know how his ball's gonna move, so he's a [tough guy] to hit.
"I hope we keep the whole staff the way it is now. He's a great pickup, and one through five, we're looking [darn] good."
Said Loaiza, who finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2003 and cited a return to the AL as a factor in his decision to sign with Oakland: "I landed pretty good here. ... I'm [looking forward] to helping as much as I can and trying to win a World Series."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.