Piazza joins A's, who also add Embree

Updated: December 8, 2006, 9:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mike Piazza will put on his catcher's gear on occasion to help out as Oakland's No. 3 backstop -- but only on occasion.

He's got a new gig now.

Piazza finalized his $8.5 million, one-year contract Friday and became the Athletics' new designated hitter.

Pop behind plate
Mike Piazza

Although he won't catch much in the American League, no other player has hit more home runs as a catcher than Mike Piazza:

Piazza 396
Carlton Fisk 351
Johnny Bench 327
Yogi Berra 306

"Oh, that's what the deal was?" Piazza joked. "Swinging the bat, I'll do what I do: be a complete hitter and be a veteran in the lineup. ... Old habits die hard. I think it will be healthy for me to work behind the plate."

The deal had been in the works for days and general manager Billy Beane was optimistic of getting something done by week's end. Piazza had a physical Friday, the last thing he had to do before officially joining the A's.

"Obviously it's an organization of relative deep baseball history," Piazza said. "I'm honored to be a part of that now. It's a great tradition of winning, a team that's done a lot in what might not be characterized as the largest market in baseball."

He will move to the American League for the first time after 15 years as a catcher, a career that many believe will eventually earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame. Piazza replaces Frank Thomas as DH and will likely bat in the cleanup spot for the defending AL West champions.

"Obviously he's filling some big shoes for what Frank did for us last year," Beane said. "Mike's pretty accomplished in his own right and also had a solid year last year while he was catching. The need for a right-handed bat and a guy with some presence was important with Frank's departure. I was impressed. I think everyone finds a way of fitting in here with our guys, but this guy seemed like he was a perfect fit."

Beane had offered one year with an option but Piazza didn't want that, saying if things work out well that the sides might extend their relationship after the 2007 season.

"If I'm productive, I'm sure there will be sentiment to do it again. I just felt like it would be best for everybody involved," said Piazza, who will become a first-time father to a baby girl in February.

The 38-year-old Piazza will be the No. 3 catcher behind starter Jason Kendall and backup Adam Melhuse, meaning he likely will get many more at-bats than the 399 and 398 he got the past two seasons.

"I've never been a numbers-oriented type of player and that has helped me," he said. "I am going to get more at-bats this year ... but ultimately my job is to go out and be a good, solid presence on this team, swing the bat as best I can."

The A's are still looking for another outfielder and perhaps a young right-handed hitter. Beane said it's "highly unlikely" Oakland will re-sign free agent outfielder Jay Payton.

Piazza batted .283 with 22 home runs and 68 RBI in 126 games this year for the NL West champion Padres, his lone season in San Diego after nearly eight years with the New York Mets. Piazza also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres.

Beane expects Piazza to DH 99.9 percent of the time.

"As much as anything it will give him that many more at-bats," Beane said. "He should just by virtue of DHing be able to stay in the lineup. We're anxious to see how he does when he doesn't have the burden of catching every day."

Thomas agreed to an $18.12 million, two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays last month. The 38-year-old slugger batted .270 and led the A's with 39 homers and 114 RBI this year. While signing Thomas was a risk because of a foot injury that limited him in 2004 and '05 with the Chicago White Sox, Piazza has a good track record for staying healthy.

"Surprisingly, he's never had surgery in his whole career," Beane said. "He's been very healthy, save to say from the groin injury a couple years ago."

Leaving the NL wasn't something Piazza had thought much about. It just sort of happened. Beane told Piazza he would do well in Oakland and that was that.

"I think of these decisions to be the best decisions when you have to mull them over and ultimately go to where you're most wanted," Piazza said. "It was very flattering. I still had to kind of warm up to the idea of coming to the American League and being a DH full-time and coming to the Bay Area, where I've never played before."

He already knows Kendall and before he signed, Piazza heard from center fielder Mark Kotsay about the team's easygoing clubhouse.

"This team has the pieces to make another postseason run," Piazza said. "Obviously there are some interesting characters there, like [Nick] Swisher."

Oakland also agreed to a two-year contract worth $5.5 million with left-handed reliever Alan Embree. He receives a $250,000 signing bonus, $2.25 million next season and $3 million in 2008. His contract also includes a $3 million team option for 2009.

Embree will upgrade an already strong bullpen for the defending AL West champions and could replace Joe Kennedy, who might move into the starting rotation.

"Year in and year out they find a way to win, whatever their payroll," said Embree, who grew up in Oregon watching the A's. "That's very intriguing."

The 36-year-old Embree went 4-3 with a 3.27 ERA in a career-high 73 outings for the NL West champion Padres in 2006, his 13th major-league season. It was the eighth straight season he made at least 60 appearances.

With Embree, the A's will have seven players under contract beyond next season.

Beane is satisfied with how his team is taking shape for new manager Bob Geren. The A's were swept in four games by the Detroit Tigers in the AL Championship Series after beating the Minnesota Twins for the club's first playoff series victory since 1990.

"I think we've sort of accomplished a lot with the couple moves," Beane said. "We've got a lot of the winter to go. There will be a certain amount of hyperactivity."

Oakland, which plans to pick a player in Thursday's winter meeting draft, also released right-hander Juan Dominguez on Wednesday.

Information from ESPN's Steve Phillips and The Associated Press was used in this report.