With Yabu On Board, More Changes In Store for A's?

The Oakland A's completed an anticipated transaction on Wednesday, when they announced the signing of Japanese right-handed pitcher Keiichi Yabu. Yabu will be introduced officially in a press conference on Thursday. Yabu's acquisition may not be the only change on the A's horizon, however. Current owner Steve Schott has announced that team Vice President Lewis Wolff will have the option of purchasing 100% of the team from the Schott and Ken Hoffman partnership.

Although a deal with Yabu had been rumored as far back as last Thursday, the signing of the Japanese pitcher was not official until he passed a physical exam on Wednesday morning. Yabu will receive a 2005 base salary of $750,000, plus a $1.5 million option for 2006 with a $250,000 buyout of the option. Yabu will also be eligible for roughly $300,000 in performance bonuses in 2005. The team will be providing Yabu a few perks to make his transition to the United States easier. He will be accompanied by an interpreter and will also receive a housing allowance and plane tickets.

A's General Manager Billy Beane said that Yabu's ability to pitch both in the rotation and in the bullpen is what made him an appealing option for the A's.

"He's had a lot of success in Japan," Beane told AP reporters. "We found with a lot of the recent guys who came over [from Japan], you can really translate their performance in Japan to the United States. He also had a strong interest in coming to Oakland. He's a four-pitch guy with good command."

Yabu will be competing for a spot in the A's rotation during spring training with minor league free agent signee Seth Etherton and rookies Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer. If Yabu fails to win a spot in the rotation, he will likely be a middle reliever in the A's bullpen. However, with the oldest pitcher currently in the A's starting rotation being the 26-year old Barry Zito, the A's will likely be looking for the veteran Yabu to fill a rotation spot.

With Yabu on board, the A's pitching corps are becoming increasingly numerous. Heading into spring training, the A's have seven pitchers competing for five spots in the rotation and eight pitchers competing for six spots in the bullpen. It should create a competitive atmosphere in spring camps this year.

Trade Winds A-Blowing

The over-flow of pitchers leads to the natural question of whether the A's will be making another trade before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. Radio reports out of Chicago indicated that the Cubs were interested in trading for A's incumbent closer Octavio Dotel. In addition, the New York Mets have continued to express interest in the A's submarine reliever Chad Bradford. And all of baseball, it seems, is interested in acquiring starter Barry Zito.

Pitching isn't the only A's commodity of interest. Several Arizona area newspapers have been reporting that the A's and Diamondbacks have been in discussions involving A's leftfielder Eric Byrnes, who is somewhat expendable after the A's acquisition of Charles Thomas from Atlanta. The Arizona papers reported that the Diamondbacks were offering hard-throwing reliever Jose Valverde.

It doesn't seem likely that the A's would be interested in Valverde, especially with their glut of relievers already fighting for roster spots. Consequently, the mention of Valverde in trade talks has led to speculation that if that deal was to be consummated, the A's would be making another deal to send one of the relievers for prospects or a hitter.

Despite all of these trade whispers, General Manager Billy Beane indicated to an AP reporter on Wednesday that he may be done making deals. He told the AP that the A's were closing in on one-year deals for all of their arbitration-eligible players and that he wasn't actively pursuing any other deals.

Ownership Change

There may be one more major transaction in the A's immediate future, and this one wouldn't involve any players. A's Vice President for Venue Development Lewis Wolff is actively exploring an option to buy 100% of the team from the current ownership group, comprised of Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman. Wolff has a 90-day option to buy the team outright and is currently weighing the pros and cons of such a purchase.

Wolff took a large step towards making that purchase on Wednesday when he met with the Ownership Committee at the Major League Baseball Owners Meeting in Arizona. Although no formal bid was put before the committee, it was believed that Wolff discussed the possible parameters of a deal with the committee.

If Wolff purchases the team, there could be a number of changes in store for the A's franchise. Wolff will undoubtedly make securing a new ballpark his first priority as an A's owner. He has already been involved in discussions with Oakland and Alameda County about possibly building a new stadium there. However, he has strong ties to San Jose and he could try to move the team there. The San Francisco Giants will most assuredly block any attempt by Wolff to move the A's into the South Bay territory. And thus far, Commissioner Bug Selig has indicated that he supports the Giants' territorial claim.

The last venue option, of course, could come from a city in another state entirely, with Portland, OR, and Las Vegas, NV, as the leading candidates. Wolff intends to make a decision whether or not to purchase the team by the end of spring training.

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