Holliday bringing big bat to Oakland

Holliday bringing big bat to Oakland

OAKLAND -- A's general manager Billy Beane has made no bones about it. Since late in his club's 75-win 2008 season, he's said it time and again. His top offseason priority is adding punch to an Oakland attack that ranked at or near the bottom of the American League in several key offensive categories.

Wednesday's official completion of the blockbuster trade that sends outfielder Matt Holliday from the Rockies to the A's -- in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and pitchers Huston Street and Greg Smith -- partially accomplishes that mission.

"Matt is an MVP-caliber player," Beane said of Holliday, who finished third in the National League with a .321 batting average last season and added 25 home runs, 88 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in 139 games.

Holliday, 28, finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2007 after leading the league in batting (.340), hits (216), RBIs (137), extra-base hits (92) and doubles (50), while finishing third in runs (120) and fourth in home runs (36).

A .319 career hitter in five seasons with the Rockies, he's expected to provide the kind of right-handed pop for which the lefty-heavy A's have forever longed. In recent years, Jermaine Dye and the 2006-model Frank Thomas provided it. Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney and the 2008 Thomas did not.

"Matt is a much-needed hitter who fills a premium spot," Beane said. "We needed to upgrade our offense. That was obvious."

It wasn't as obvious that Beane would be looking at outfielders in his quest; the A's ended the 2008 season with a handful of young outfielders who appeared to figure prominently into the long-term plans.

But in parting with Gonzalez, who was the centerpiece of the eight-player trade that sent All-Star right-hander Dan Haren to Arizona last winter and was viewed by many as Oakland's most promising young outfielder, Beane provided clarity to a somewhat cryptic statement made several days before word of the trade leaked out Monday.

"I think we'll be open to any area that we can upgrade," Beane said last Thursday.

The Holliday trade pounded that point home, and it's unlikely that Beane is done dealing. Holliday himself suggested as much.

"I know Billy is going to continue to try to improve the team," said the slugger.

A three-time NL All-Star, Holliday is scheduled to make $13.5 million in 2009 and will be a free agent after the season. Oakland's chances of keeping Holliday beyond next season are slim, given that Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, is expected to seek a multiyear deal worth about $20 million per year.

Beane deflected any questions about the potential length of Holliday's stay in the East Bay, including the possibility of trading Holliday before the 2009 Trade Deadline if the A's aren't in contention for a playoff spot.

"We'll focus on the whole year," Beane said Wednesday. "Matt's a premium player, so we'll cross that bridge when get to it. It's no secret he's going to command a significant contract, and when we get to that point we'll deal with it. To address it before that, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."

Gonzalez, 23, was named the A's top prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2008 season and made his big league debut with two stints during the season, batting .242 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 85 games.

Smith, a 24-year-old lefty, also was acquired in the Haren trade and also made his big league debut with Oakland in 2008. He went 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA in a team-high 32 starts and led the Majors with 16 pickoffs while leading the A's in innings (190 1/3), walks (87), home runs allowed (21) and runs given up (92).

Street, 25, was the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year and began the 2008 season as the A's closer, but after converting 18 of 25 save opportunities -- his 70-percent conversion rate was the second-lowest percentage among AL relievers -- Street was replaced by Brad Ziegler on Aug. 8.

Hot Stove

Asked if it was difficult to part with three young players on a rebuilding team for what might be a one-year rental, Beane mentioned organizational strength and "redundancy" at the departing players' respective positions. He also noted that the A's "stepped up in terms of the players we gave up" to get the deal done.

"If for some reason Matt left us at the end of the year," Beane said, "We'd get two first-round picks [as compensation], and that falls in line what we've been doing here since last year, too."

And while the trade confirmed that the rebuilding project he jump-started with the Haren deal has been amended to include players who can help the team win in 2009, Beane conceded that adding one premium hitter to a team that had the lowest batting average (.242) and scored the fewest runs (646) in the AL last season likely won't turn the A's, who finished third in the four-team AL West, into anybody's favorite in the division.

"I'm not pollyanish enough to think you go from 75 to 95 wins," Beane said. "We want to be better than we were last year, and this is part of that process."

Adding more offense via free agency also could be part of the process.

In swapping established stars such as Haren, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton for prospects over the past year, Beane provided financial flexibility that he suggested hasn't been negated by taking on Holliday's hefty 2008 salary.

"I don't know if it has much of an impact on how we approach free agents," Beane said. "Ultimately, free agency comes down to economics. There may be some guys we're interested in."

Among the free agents the A's are said to be interested in are shortstop Rafael Furcal and first baseman Jason Giambi.

"I wouldn't say this [trade] in itself will impact us going forward," Beane offered.

A right-handed hitter listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Holliday said he was initially surprised when he heard of the trade.

"I've never been traded before," he explained. "I've been in the [Rockies] organization for 11 years, and anytime you make that kind of change there's a sense of the unknown. But I'm excited about the opportunity to go to an organization like Oakland.

"I understand it's a young, talented team, and I'll do anything I can to help."

Like Beane, Holliday wasn't interested in discussing anything beyond next season, preferring to focus on how he can help Oakland's offense. To that end, Beane said he expects third baseman Eric Chavez, who had three surgeries in 2007 and one this fall, to be healthy next season.

"I've looked at the roster a little bit, and I hope Chavez is healthy," Holliday said. "A healthy Eric Chavez could be a big boost."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.