Since it became clear that the Oakland A's were not going to be able to re-sign outfielder Jay Payton, the A's have been on the look-out for another major league outfielder. They threw their hat into the Rule 5 ring, selecting Ryan Goleski from the Cleveland chain. However, when the news broke that Goleski was recovering from off-season wrist surgery, the A's began to search the free agent market for outfielders. They expressed interest in Trot Nixon and Darin Erstad, but eventually those outfielders signed elsewhere.
Last week, the A's inked journeyman outfielder Ricky Ledee to a minor league contract and it was assumed that the A's were content with bringing Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty, Nick Swisher, Vince Faison, Travis Buck, Javier Herrera, Hiram Bocachica and the aforementioned Ledee and Goleski into camp to fill-out the outfield.
The A's have been nothing if not unpredictable over the last few years, so it probably shouldn't have been surprising when the news broke on Tuesday that they had come to terms with Shannon Stewart, a player only last week they had denied any interest in.
The long-time American League veteran will be joining the A's on a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth a guaranteed one million dollars with an additional one-and-a-half million possible in incentives. He will join the A's with a number of injury questions surrounding him. Stewart missed all but 41 games last season with a foot problem, the same problem that limited him in 2004, as well.
Stewart will turn 33 next month, but he is already a 12-year major league veteran. He has spent all of that time with Toronto and Minnesota. In his prime, Stewart was one of the AL's premier top-of-the-order hitters. He has a career .299 batting average with 102 homeruns.
To make room for Stewart on the A's 40-man roster, Oakland designated Charles Thomas for assignment. Thomas, who was acquired in the Tim Hudson trade before the 2005 season, had a disappointing two seasons with the A's. He began the 2005 season as the A's starting left-fielder, but he struggled at the plate, hitting only .109 in 30 games before being sent down to Triple-A. Thomas spent all of last season at Triple-A, hitting .274 with the River Cats and winning the team's Defensive MVP award. Thomas could find his way back to the National League, where he posted an 813 OPS for the Atlanta Braves in 2004.
Stewart's signing could have an impact on a few members of the A's current 40-man roster, as well. Bocachica, Goleski and Dan Johnson will be in-danger of losing their 25-man roster spots to Stewart. In addition, minor league free agent signings Erubiel Durazo and Ledee will have a tougher time making the 25-man roster with Stewart on-board. The Stewart signing all-but guarantees that top A's prospect Buck will, at least, start the season in the minor leagues.