Foulke Returns To Oakland

Four years ago, the Oakland A's spent much of their off-season trying to get Keith Foulke to re-sign with the team as a free agent. On Friday, the A's finally got Foulke to sign on the dotted line. A year removed from major league action, Foulke is somewhat of an unknown quantity. However, the A's feel that the right-hander is healthy and ready to play an important role in the A's bullpen.

On Friday, the Oakland A's announced that they had come to terms with right-hander Keith Foulke. Foulke, who saved 43 games for the A's in 2003, returns to Oakland after missing the entire 2007 season with elbow and knee problems. The 35-year-old has a career 3.30 ERA with 190 saves. He was the Boston Red Sox's ace closer in 2004 when he helped the team win the World Series. His next two seasons with Boston were marked by injuries and controversy, however.

Foulke signed with the Cleveland Indians before the 2007 season and was set to be Cleveland's closer. However, he felt pain in his throwing elbow before the season and decided to retire. He had surgery to remove bone chips from that elbow last year and decided to try to return to major league action back in November. He threw in front of 20 teams in January to prove that he was healthy and ready to pitch at the major-league level once again.

The A's liked what they saw from Foulke's throwing session and inked him to a $700,000 guaranteed deal with $2.5 million worth of incentives. Foulke is expected to act as the team's primary right-handed set-up man for current A's closer Huston Street. Foulke reportedly chose the A's offer over offers from the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.

Foulke was originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the ninth round of the 1994 draft. He made his major league debut with the Giants in 1997 and then was traded later that season to the Chicago White Sox as part of the "White Flag Trade."

Foulke pitched parts of six seasons for the White Sox. He saved 34 games for the Pale Hose in 2000 and 42 games in 2001. In 2002, Foulke fell out of favor with Chicago after some early season struggles, and finished the season with only 11 saves. He was traded to Oakland that off-season along with Mark Johnson for Billy Koch.

In 2003, Foulke had the best season of his career, posting a 2.08 ERA with nine wins and 43 saves. The change-up artist made the All-Star team and finished the season seventh in the Cy Young balloting. His year ended on a sour note, however, when he blew a save in Game Four of the ALDS versus the Boston Red Sox. The A's wound-up losing that series in five games.

That off-season, the A's and the Red Sox engaged in a bidding war for Foulke's services. He wound-up signing with Boston, where he would win a World Series title with the team in 2004. However, the honeymoon in Boston didn't last long. Foulke struggled during the 2005 and 2006 seasons with Boston and lost his job as the team's closer.

Despite his experience as a closer, Foulke is expected to be a set-up man for the A's in 2008. He is expected to team with former Red Sox's bullpen mate Alan Embree to handle to the eighth inning duties for Oakland in front of A's closer Huston Street.

To make room for Foulke on the 40-man roster, the A's designated first baseman Wes Bankston for assignment. Bankston was claimed by Oakland off of waivers from the Kansas City Royals earlier this off-season. The former Tampa Bay top prospect has been designated for assignment three times this off-season. He is a career .278 hitter with 92 homeruns in 600 minor league games.

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