A’s, Fuentes agree to $10.5 million, two-year deal
OAKLAND – The Oakland Athletics have all kinds of options in the bullpen – and they like it that way.
The A’s added another proven arm to their already deep corps of relievers Wednesday, finalizing a $10.5 million, two-year contract with free-agent lefty Brian Fuentes.
“We’re excited about the depth and versatility of the bullpen. Not only do we have more options than we’ve ever had, we have multiple guys who can pitch late in games,” assistant general manager David Forst said.
The sides agreed to the deal last weekend and completed it after Fuentes passed a physical. The incentive-laden contract includes a $6.5 million club option for 2013.
The 35-year-old Fuentes, who grew up in the Central Valley town of Merced where he still lives, was 4-1 with 24 saves and a 2.81 ERA in 48 appearances and 48 innings with the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins last year. He is slated to be a setup man for manager Bob Geren with Oakland going to 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey as closer.
“I was told that he’s the closer. There’s no competition in my mind,” Fuentes said. “He’s done a tremendous job. I’ve gotten to watch him from afar. He’s electric, man. When he’s healthy, he’s really, really good.”
Forst, Geren and general manager Billy Beane drove to Merced last week to court Fuentes, taking him to the top Mexican restaurant in town.
Fuentes will earn $5 million this season and again in 2012. The A’s must decide within five days of the finish of the 2012 World Series whether to exercise his 2013 option or pay him a $500,000 buyout.
Fuentes also can earn performance bonuses with an additional $100,000 each for 30, 40, 45 and 50 games finished and $250,000 each for 55 and 60 games finished.
If traded, Fuentes would receive a $200,000 bonus.
“It’s a very young, talented group,” Fuentes said of Oakland’s staff. “Coming into a staff that was already set up pretty well, to come in and make it a little bit stronger is a win-win situation. … It’s never a bad problem to have not knowing who to go to in games. It’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Fuentes became the second bullpen addition in two days. Oakland added right-handed reliever Grant Balfour on Tuesday when he finalized an $8.1 million, two-year deal.
On Saturday, the A’s agreed to terms with righty submariner Brad Ziegler on a $1.25 million, one-year contract to salary arbitration.
On paper, Oakland seems to have one of the top pitching staffs in the American League.
Fuentes is happy to be pitching near his hometown and part of a talented staff.
“I can’t get any closer than Oakland. It was a good fit overall,” Fuentes said. “That was actually my team growing up, it’s funny. … I was a big Dave Stewart fan and that bulldog personality of his.”
Right-hander Rich Harden is returning to the A’s and could compete for the fifth starter job after years of injury troubles – though there are several talented candidates for the last rotation spot that will be decided once spring training begins next month.
The A’s led the AL in ERA (3.56) and shutouts (17) while holding opponents to a .245 batting average last year, when they remained in the playoff chase until late September before finishing second in the AL West to the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers.
The most memorable pitching highlight was left-hander Dallas Braden’s perfect game against Tampa Bay on May 9, the first by an A’s pitcher since Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter did it in 1968.
Along with Braden, Oakland has experienced starters in Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.
The AL West runners-up also upgraded an offense that hit just 109 homers and scored 663 runs last season, their second fewest in the last 28 non-strike seasons. The A’s added middle-of-the order hitters Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus.
“We definitely have an opportunity. The pieces are in place. I see a lot of San Francisco in this team,” Fuentes said of the improbable World Series champion Giants across the bay.
– AP sportswriter Ronald Blum contributed from New York.