Padres finalize deal with Piazza

The best power-hitting catcher in baseball history is coming to San Diego.

Free agent Mike Piazza, 37, signed a one-year contract with the Padres. While most other teams pursuing Piazza this winter looked at him as a designated hitter, first baseman or pinch hitter, the Padres appear willing to let Piazza catch more than half of their games this season. He also will serve as a DH in interleague road games and occasionally could play first.

Piazza has hit 20 or more home runs in a season 11 times, 30 or more nine times and has hit a career-high 40 homers on two separate occasions (1997 and 1999). He has driven in 90 or more runs in 10 different seasons and 100 or more six times highlighted by a career-high 124 in both 1997 and 1999.

"I've heard nothing but amazing things about the city of San Diego and I am excited to finally have the opportunity to play there," said Piazza. "I hope that I can help bring another division title back to San Diego, then continue on to a successful postseason run."

Piazza is likely to be the Padres' cleanup hitter.

The contract calls for Piazza to make $1.25 million in 2006, although incentives could push that figure to $2 million. The sides agreed to a mutual $8 million option for 2007, which the Padres could buy out for $750,000.

Piazza's 374 homers as a catcher are a record. The 12-time All-Star needs three homers for 400 overall in his career.

Other teams, including the Yankees, Blue Jays and Phillies, reportedly spoke with Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano, but none was willing to commit as much playing time as the Padres have.

Piazza is coming off a disappointing season with the Mets, as he hit .251 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs, was selected to play in his 12th All-Star Game, making his 10th start in the Midsummer Classic.

Until signing Piazza over the weekend, the Padres were looking at using Doug Mirabelli and Dave Ross behind the plate. A veteran backup, Mirabelli was acquired from the Red Sox in an offseason trade that sent Mark Loretta to Boston.

"Mike Piazza is one of the greatest hitting catchers in the history of baseball and has his name written all over the Major League record books," said Towers. "This is an exciting addition to our club and we are thrilled to see him add to those numbers while wearing a Padres uniform."

With Piazza's arrival, turnover on the Padres' roster tops 67 percent.

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