Newcomer Fuentes likes A's chances in West
Team finalizes two-year deal to add lefty to revamped 'pen
OAKLAND -- Brian Fuentes' search for his next baseball home ended with the Oakland A's, who are situated about 100 miles northeast of his Merced, Calif., residence.The left-hander's vision of Oakland's potential for 2011 extended just a few miles farther, across the Bay Bridge. Praising the balance between offense and pitching that the A's appear to have achieved with their offseason moves, Fuentes said that an American League West title appears possible for his new club, which officially announced its agreement with him on a two-year, $10.5 million contract Wednesday. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the A's designated infielder Steve Tolleson for assignment.
"The pieces are in place," Fuentes said on a conference call. "Management has gone out and quietly put together a really strong team. I see a lot of San Francisco in this team. San Fran wasn't thought too highly of going into Spring Training last year, but they have pitching and some really good role players. It seems like there's a lot of that in this Oakland team, too. It's a little premature to say that we're going to win the West, but the opportunity's there."The A's figure to have strengthened that opportunity -- as well as an already impressive-looking bullpen -- by acquiring Fuentes, a four-time All-Star. After establishing the Colorado Rockies' all-time saves record with 115 between 2002-08, Fuentes led the Majors with 48 saves for the Angels in 2009. He propelled himself into free agency last year by limiting opponents to a .181 batting average, fifth-lowest among AL relievers, while finishing 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 24 saves for the Angels and Minnesota Twins. Despite amassing 20 or more saves every year since 2005, Fuentes insisted that he'll embrace a setup role with Oakland if Andrew Bailey remains the team's closer. Bailey is expected to recover from an injury to his right (throwing) elbow, but if he encounters a setback, Fuentes could receive more chances to close than he might expect. "I was told that he's the closer," said Fuentes, 35. "So there's no competition in my mind. If there comes a time when they need me to take the ball, I will. [Bailey has] done a tremendous job. He's electric, man. When he's healthy, he's really, really good. It's going to be a healthy environment." Fuentes, whose deal includes a club option for 2013, reportedly had drawn interest from multiple teams, including the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. But the prospect of playing for the ballclub closest to his Merced home -- the team he rooted for in his youth -- was too attractive to pass up. "It definitely played a factor. ... Not only that, but I was coming into a good situation. It was a good fit overall," said Fuentes, who has 187 saves and a 3.41 ERA in 551 appearances spanning 10 Major League seasons. Meeting at a Mexican restaurant last Friday in Merced with Oakland's braintrust -- general manager Billy Beane, assistant GM David Forst and manager Bob Geren -- cemented Fuentes' preference for the A's. "It always helps to see someone in person and shake someone's hand, look someone in the eyes and get a feel for what they're all about," Fuentes said. "They had a great sales pitch, because, you know, I'm here."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.