From one future Hall of Famer to another, the Oakland A's replaced one 1990s icon with a cheaper…
The Piazza signing was the biggest news of the day, for obvious reasons. The 1993 Rookie of the Year is the all-time leading homerun hitter among catchers and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. It is the second consecutive year that the A's have brought in a future Hall of Famer to fill their designated hitter role. Last season, the A's signed Frank Thomas to a one-year, incentive-laden contract. Thomas had a monster season and signed a two-year deal with Toronto earlier this off-season.
The reported terms of Piazza's contract are one-year, $8.5 million. He is expected to serve primarily as the team's DH and will likely only catch in an emergency situation, as Oakland is expected to carry both Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse on the 25-man roster to handle the daily catching duties. Having Piazza in the line-up should free A's manager Bob Geren to pinch-hit the switch-hitting Melhuse more often, as there won't be a fear of the A's not having a catcher late in games should Kendall go down with an injury.
Piazza had a solid season for the Padres in 2006, his first with the club. He hit .283 with 22 homers and 68 RBIs in 126 games. Piazza posted a 935 OPS outside of Petco Park, which is notoriously tough on hitters. He is a .309 career hitter with 419 career homeruns. He hasn't reached the 30 homerun mark since 2002, although he had eight consecutive seasons of 30 or more homeruns through 2002. Piazza's deal is not yet official, as he has to complete a physical.
Piazza will be joining the A's with another former Padre, left-handed reliever Alan Embree. Embree appeared in 73 games for the Padres last season, a career-high for the 14-year veteran. He had a 3.27 ERA and was especially effective after the All-Star Break, when he went 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA.
Embree last pitched in the American League in 2005, when he had a disastrous campaign with Boston and New York, posting a 7.62 ERA. In 2004, Embree had a 4.13 ERA for the Red Sox and he played a significant role in their World Series champion bullpen. The A's are his eighth team.
Embree is expected to be the A's primary left-handed reliever, opening the path for Joe Kennedy to compete for a starting rotation spot. Regardless, Kennedy struggled against left-handed hitters last season and may be best suited for a long-relief role rather than a situational role in the bullpen if he doesn't win a rotation spot. Embree joins Kennedy, Brad Halsey and Ron Flores as left-handers with significant major league relief experience on the A's 40-man roster. Oakland will also bring Erasmo Ramirez, a minor league free agent signing, into big league camp. Ramirez served as a left-handed reliever out of the Texas Rangers bullpen in 2004 and 2005.
To make room for Embree on the 40-man roster, the A's elected to place Juan Dominguez on waivers. Dominguez was acquired by Oakland at the end of the 2006 spring training with the hope that he could compete for a fifth starter spot in 2007. However, he was wildly inconsistent with the AAA-Sacramento River Cats in 2006 and displayed a questionable attitude and work ethic. He made 17 appearances for the River Cats (16 starts) and went 5-10 with a 5.85 ERA. Dominguez missed the last six weeks of the season with a sprained right ankle.
The A's have 39 players on their 40-man roster currently. A's GM Billy Beane told MLB.com that the team was leaning towards taking a player during the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, which takes place tomorrow. If the A's do take a Rule 5 player and sign Piazza officially tomorrow, they will have to clear one more player off of the 40-man roster. MLB.com also noted that a clause in Jay Payton's contract prevented the team from offering him arbitration and that the team is still in negotiations to try to bring back the outfielder. The A's are expected to sign one more hitter in addition to Piazza.