Giambi, A's finalize one-year deal

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tanned, toned and casually dressed fresh off his Mexican getaway, Jason Giambi sat down with Oakland general manager Billy Beane to his right and manager Bob Geren to his left and didn't waste a second before speaking.

"I'm excited you guys are all here. I'm excited about this," Giambi said Wednesday before he'd even given the Athletics time to formally introduce him for his second stint with the club.

That came next, when the cameras went live and Giambi pulled on his new -- and old, for that matter -- No. 16 jersey and posed in the very room where he was recognized for his AL MVP award back in 2000.

Giambi is returning to his professional baseball roots with the low-budget A's, a far cry from the past seven years he spent with the New York Yankees but familiar nonetheless.

Giambi and the A's finalized a $5.25 million, one-year contract with a club option Wednesday, bringing the free-agent designated hitter and first baseman back to the place where he began his big league career. The sides had reached a preliminary agreement earlier this week but Giambi still needed to complete the obligatory physical for the deal to get done.

"In our minds he's still one of the best offensive players in the league," Beane said. "He was one of the best when he left and for seven years he did the same thing with the Yankees that he did with the A's. We're looking forward to seeing more of that. First and foremost, we're talking about a guy who has been one of the greatest Oakland Athletics on the field, but you're also talking about arguably one of the most popular players we've ever had. I didn't realize how much I missed him. ...

"At the risk of going on too long and telling everybody how much I love you, Jason, I feel like I'm marrying my ex-wife. I talked to Jason on Christmas Eve and told him, 'We're getting the band back together.'"

Giambi, who turns 38 on Thursday, follows a line of aging and injury-prone designated hitters in recent years with the A's -- Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney and then Thomas again. Giambi also could play some first base to give Daric Barton a break from time to time.

After leaving the A's following the 2001 season, Giambi signed a $120 million, seven-year contract with the Yankees. He was slowed by injuries and ensnared in the federal and baseball investigations of performance-enhancing drugs.

New York declined its $22 million option on him after last season, choosing instead to pay him a $5 million buyout.

Giambi thanked the Steinbrenners, Yankees GM Brian Cashman and others in the organization for what he called a "childhood dream" of playing for New York despite the constant media scrutiny and attention.

"When you're with the Yankees, you're like a traveling rock band," Giambi said, noting he's eager to take part in Oakland's rebuilding process and helping to mentor young teammates. "I played with basically 25 superstars in New York every day. They're incredible guys and we had the time of our life."

With Oakland, Giambi gets a $4 million salary this season and the A's hold a $6.5 million option for 2010 with a $1.25 million buyout. He also has a limited no-trade provision and can earn an additional $500,000 each year in performance bonuses: $250,000 each for 525 and 550 plate appearances.

"I'm back here to win," said Giambi, who will join new outfielder Matt Holliday in the middle of the batting order. "I didn't come here just to come back and be the prom queen again and ride through the floats."

Oakland is ready for the offensive upgrade he brings, too.

The A's had some serious rough stretches last season, like going three months -- from mid-June to mid-September -- without a three-game winning streak. They batted .231 after the All-Star break. The last AL team to hit below .231 after the break was the 1974 Milwaukee Brewers (.227).

Oakland (75-86) finished with its worst record since going 74-88 in 1998. The A's lost 44 of their last 68 games after being just four games out of first place on July 11.

"You were in the hunt, 'til what, the break?" Giambi asked Beane.

"'Til I traded everyone," Beane quipped.

Giambi said returning to the A's was the best fit at this stage of his career -- and he kept in touch with his agent, Arn Tellem, in recent days while he vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Tampa Bay also was interested in Giambi but wound up signing Pat Burrell to a $16 million, two-year contract Monday.

From the fanfare of Yankees pinstripes and playing in the Bronx to again wearing the green and gold in the blue-collar environment that comes with playing in the decrepit Coliseum and being part of the low-budget A's, this marks a familiar change for Giambi.

A's third baseman Eric Chavez is still around from Giambi's early days, too. Giambi, sporting facial hair, plans to "stay scruffy" like during his first time in Oakland -- unlike the clean-shaven look he typically sported with the Yankees.

Oakland announced in early November that Bob Alejo would become its new director of strength and conditioning -- a sign Giambi might be next to come back and return to his roots. Alejo served as the A's strength and conditioning coach from 1993-2001 and followed Giambi to the Yankees, working for Giambi personally and for the team during some years.

The slugger got booed when he came back to the Bay Area with the Yankees, customary treatment for all those former Oakland stars who have gone on to big money elsewhere.

Giambi, a second-round draft pick by the A's in 1992 out of Long Beach State, is a .286 career hitter with 396 homers and 1,279 RBIs in 14 big league seasons. He made his major league debut for Oakland on May 8, 1995.

Giambi batted .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs in 2008 for the Yankees, who missed the playoffs despite their $200 million payroll after a run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances. That's just one shy of the record set by the Atlanta Braves from 1991-2005.

"Jason understands hitting more than any other player I've ever been around," Beane said. "I missed his 35 homers the most, but I also missed his personality."

To clear a roster spot for Giambi, the A's designated infielder Joe Dillon for assignment.