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Loaiza joins Zito, Harden, Haren and Blanton in rotation

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Esteban Loaiza weighed similar offers
from the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants before choosing to stick with what felt most familiar: the American League.

The A's and the free-agent right-hander agreed Monday to a
three-year contract worth nearly $21.4 million, adding an
experienced pitcher to a starting rotation that already includes
Barry Zito and Rich Harden.

"I landed pretty good here with a nice group of guys," Loaiza
said when introduced at Oakland's ballpark. "Coming back this year
to the American League, it's still fresh. ... I'm happy to be here.
I'll do the best job possible for myself, for the team, my new
teammates that I'm going to see at spring training. I'll give it my
best and try to win a World Series."

The deal, worth $21,375,000, includes a 2009 club option. Loaiza
went 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA for the Washington Nationals last
season, the second-best win total in his 11-year major league
career. He won 21 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2003.

The 33-year-old Loaiza made the tough decision to turn down a
similar offer -- three years without an option -- from the Giants. He
has spent most of his career in the AL.

A's general manager Billy Beane made it clear that adding Loaiza
doesn't mean he will trade another pitcher. There has been
speculation for some time that he might deal Zito, whose contract
is up after next season. Beane plans to have discussions with
Zito's representatives during a "quieter time in the offseason."

"With Barry in our rotation and Esteban in our rotation, we
have a chance for one of the deepest rotations in the league,"
Beane said.

Loaiza joins a team that has almost its entire roster returning
from last season, when the A's failed to reach the playoffs for the
second straight year. Oakland had a 91-win season in 2004 and 88
victories this year.

John Boggs, Loaiza's agent, was surprised that Beane still had
serious interest in the pitcher when other teams got involved.
Usually, the A's budget restraints keep them out of deals such as
this.

"He kept matching blow for blow," Boggs said.

After a slow start by its young rotation, Oakland pitched well
down the stretch thanks to impressive performances by rookie
12-game winner Joe Blanton and Dan Haren, a 14-game winner in his
first full season as a starter.

Beane believes Loaiza complements the starters the A's already
have, and the GM has had interest in Loaiza for several years. With
both Blanton and Haren logging more than 200 innings in 2005, Beane
wanted another starter who could take some pressure off his young
pitchers.

"You can never have enough pitching," said Beane, still
looking to upgrade the offense. "The good thing is he can no
longer pitch against us. We think this is a great addition to an
already very strong pitching staff."

Loaiza made 34 starts last season, striking out 173 and walking
55 batters in 217 innings. A two-time All-Star, he bounced back
from a 1-4 start this year to go 11-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 23 outings
after June 1.

Loaiza's deal includes a $3 million signing bonus with a
spread-out payment schedule and yearly salaries of $5 million, $6
million and $7 million. The A's have a $7.5 million option for 2009
with a $375,000 buyout.

Manager Ken Macha, who parted ways with the team briefly after
the season before signing a new deal, was pleased with how well
Oakland performed with such a young roster. The A's also dealt with
injuries to shortstop Bobby Crosby and No. 2 starter Harden, who
took on a greater role after the team traded Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder during a three-day span last December.

"It was an opportunity to add a player without subtracting a
player," Beane said. "You guys know our history. Usually, we're
trading a player to acquire a player."

But the departures of Hudson and Mulder offered the A's some
payroll flexibility, and Beane expects to have more money to spend
on players under the team's new ownership group headed by Los
Angeles real estate developer Lewis Wolff.

Loaiza has a 112-99 career record and a 4.60 ERA in 334 games,
297 starts. His 112 wins are second-most in major league history by
a Mexican-born pitcher to Fernando Valenzuela's 173.

Loaiza joins his seventh team after breaking into the big
leagues in 1995 with Pittsburgh, where he worked with A's catcher
Jason Kendall. Loaiza also pitched for Texas, Toronto, the White
Sox, the New York Yankees and Washington.

Boosting the offense is next for Beane, who heads to the winter
meetings in Dallas next week with that in mind.

"We would like to have another bat, no question," he said.