SDUT: Piazza is Padres' catch

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

It was during baseball's winter meetings last month that General Manager Kevin Towers realized the Padres might have a shot at signing Mike Piazza as a free agent.

Towers also realized that any mention of that possibility could spoil his plan.

“For us to sign Mike, we needed to be patient,” Towers said yesterday. “I knew our chance would come late if he was still out there as spring training approached.”

Yesterday, the timing – shortly before 11 a.m. in New York City, to be exact – became perfect for the Padres.

Piazza told his agent, Dan Lozano, to accept the Padres' offer that guarantees the 37-year-old catcher $2 million for 2006 and potentially another $750,000 in performance bonuses for games played.

There is a mutual option at $8 million for 2007. Piazza will make a base salary of $1.25 million this season with the other $750,000 guaranteed as a buyout against the option should either side reject the 2007 bid.

“We're a much stronger ballclub today,” Towers said. “I am excited. Mike gives us a right-handed power threat in the middle of the lineup. His strength (a right-handed pull hitter) plays well to Petco Park. We're a contender.”

Said Lozano: “I think Mike is as excited about being a Padre as they are in having him in San Diego.

“What tilted it in the Padres' favor was that Mike could dictate how much he will play in San Diego. No one else was offering Mike the playing opportunity that the Padres did.

“And when Kevin and (manager) Bruce (Bochy) both talked to Mike, they made him feel very comfortable. Kevin let Mike know that he was their guy. That meant a lot to him.”

Towers said Piazza would hit cleanup. Last season, over 162 games, Padres cleanup hitters batted .279 with 19 homers and 97 RBI. Last year Piazza hit .251 with 19 homers and 62 RBI in 113 games for the Mets. He was in the final year of a contract that paid him $16 million for 2005.

Of course, there are questions regarding Piazza. Historically, the careers of catchers tail off sharply past age 35.

Piazza has a career .311 average and 397 homers. But he last topped 30 homers in 2002. He last batted .300 or more in 2001. Over the past two seasons, he has hit .260 with an average of 19.5 homers and 58 RBI.

And there are questions about his catching, mostly because more than 1,300 bases have been stolen against him and his career success rate at throwing out runners is a subpar 24 percent.

“Too much is made of the ability to throw out runners when grading catchers,” Bochy, a former catcher, said last night.

“The most important thing is how a catcher handles a pitching staff. Mike does a nice job handling pitchers and is a hard worker behind the plate. He led a staff to the World Series (the Mets in 2000). And he wants to catch.”

The Padres expect Piazza to play more than 100 games – at least 70 to 80 at catcher in tandem with Doug Mirabelli. They also expect Piazza to serve as the club's designated hitter in their nine road games against American League teams and play a few games at first base against tough left-handed pitchers.

Piazza's performance bonuses start accruing after he appears in more than 100 games.

“We're going to play Mike as much as we can,” Bochy said.

Towers' pursuit of Piazza mirrored his dealings for another free agent two years ago. Towers signed David Wells to an incentive-laden contract after the Yankees believed the left-handed pitcher was going to accept their offer of a minor league contract.

“We let Mike and Lozano know we were extremely interested in having Mike in San Diego,” Towers said. “We let them know exactly what we could do. We told them we understood it might not be enough, but that if they wanted it, it was there.”

The Padres placed no deadline on their offer. And Piazza freely shopped elsewhere. His first choice was to remain in New York. But when the Yankees withdrew from negotiations last week, the Phillies and Padres became the front-runners.

The acquisition of Piazza will lead to a shuffling of the Padres' batting order that could include Ryan Klesko moving up to the No. 2 spot behind Dave Roberts.

Since joining the Padres, Klesko has averaged 75 walks per season and has a .380 on-base percentage. His walk-to-strikeout ratio as a Padre is nearly 1-1.

“We have ample people who could hit in the Nos. 5 and 6 spots with Vinny Castilla and Mike Cameron,” said Towers. “Klesko might be our best No. 2 hitter ahead of (Brian) Giles, Piazza, Castilla and Cameron.”

Late last season, Bochy had Klesko bat in the No. 2 spot in five games.

Wells on hold
Towers said there will be no news regarding Wells until spring training.

Theo Epstein, who was reinstalled as Boston's GM last week, told Towers on Saturday that he wants to wait and talk to Wells after the Red Sox report before pursuing any trades. Wells has told the Sox he wants to finish his career on the West Coast rather than in Boston.