Foulke picks A's in return to Bay Area
Reliever's top year still 2003 All-Star season with Oakland
OAKLAND -- Keith Foulke pitched in pressure situations for both the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox over the years, so auditioning for a group of baseball scouts and executives on a warm January day in Phoenix should have been no big deal."It was a little nerve-wracking," Foulke said via a conference call on Friday. "I guess my name and reputation helped because we had 20-some odd teams there taking a look. I think we got the job done." Foulke ended his year-long absence from baseball by agreeing to terms with the Athletics on a one-year, incentive-laden contract. Foulke said he also considered offers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and New York Mets. "It came to who made the best offer, and would give me the best chance to succeed early in the season," he said. "Oakland has succeeded with, probably, less talent. That's their benchmark; it's how they do things. It's a great place to play." The 35-year-old Foulke has a 41-34 record and 190 saves with a 3.30 ERA in his 11-year Major League career, which included stints with the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago White Sox, Oakland (in his 2003 All-Star season) and the Boston Red Sox, saving the final game of the 2004 World Series. Foulke missed last season with knee and elbow injuries. He signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Indians on Jan. 4, 2007, but announced his retirement six weeks later. "I wasn't ready to go play for Cleveland," Foulke said. "I signed a great deal, but I wasn't in shape. I could sit on the DL in Cleveland and get my elbow fixed or stay home and get ready for the 2008 season." Foulke compiled a 9-1 record with 43 saves in his 2003 stint with the A's. He had a 2.08 ERA in 72 appearances and earned The Sporting News AL Fireman of the Year and Rolaids Relief Man of the Year honors. He was seventh in the Cy Young Award balloting. The wins, ERA, saves and appearances are all career bests. In his first season with the Red Sox, Foulke was 5-3 with 32 saves and a 2.17 ERA in 72 appearances. He was 1-0 with three saves and a 0.64 ERA, allowing one run in 14 innings pitching in 11 of Boston's 14 postseason contests. "We first talked about this in September," A's assistant GM David Forst said. "Curt Young and Billy Owens were at the workout and they both said he looked like the Keith Foulke of old. We had a spot where Keith could help and it was an opportunity to add a player who can help the team." The right-handed Foulke, a changeup specialist, originally came to Oakland, along with Mark Johnson and Joe Valentine, from the White Sox in a trade that sent Billy Koch and two Minor Leaguers to Chicago.
He enjoyed his finest season with the A's, signing as a free agent with the Red Sox following the 2003 season. Terry Francona was named Boston's manager the same year after spending the 2003 season as Oakland's bench coach."I enjoyed my time with Oakland," Foulke said. "I really didn't want to leave, but there were other factors and things worked out." Foulke suffered through elbow, back and knee injuries in 2005 and 2006, and when he felt pain in his elbow after signing with the Indians, he said he'd had enough. "I decided I was not ready to leave baseball," Foulke said. "I started throwing again last November. It didn't take long to figure out I needed to give my knees a year. It was December before I could throw pain-free with my mechanics." That's all the A's needed to hear. "Any time a player hasn't pitched for a year, you want to make sure," Forst said. "His mechanics were there and it looked like he hadn't missed a beat." Foulke is expected to complement Alan Embree as Oakland's top setup guys for closer Huston Street. "I definitely think the bullpen will be one of our strengths," Forst said. "He still has all his pitches although his velocity isn't quite there. He got up to 85 [mph] but to be honest he's the kind of pitcher who doesn't need much more." Forst also indicated that right-handers Kiko Calero and Rich Harden are both expected to be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday.
Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.