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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A list of objectives, created mostly by the departure of their best starting pitcher and most productive hitter, were addressed and probably filled during the four-day Winter Meetings at Disney World.And Athletics general manager Billy Beane needed only a few hours on site to make things happen.The only Major League GM who could come to these annual meetings with an overnight bag -- Beane missed the first two days of the talk-but-little-action session -- swooped in from New York on Wednesday morning, signed veteran left-handed reliever Alan Embree to a two-year contract, and needs only a clean bill of health for Mike Piazza to complete a one-year deal worth a reported $8.5 million."Assuming the Piazza deal gets done, we accomplished a lot with a couple of moves," Beane said. "Pitching is hard to find and we got it. And by signing Alan, we have an option we didn't have before."That option is replacing Zito from within the organization.The 36-year-old Embree becomes an important part of the bullpen, allowing Joe Kennedy, Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation during Spring Training.None of the three is the caliber of Zito, a Cy Young Award winner, but the Athletics believe right-hander Rich Harden has the stuff to make him the rotation ace. The reports on his health are encouraging and he's expected to begin Spring Training without any restrictions.A larger item, though, was finding a replacement for designated hitter Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt provided 39 home runs and 114 RBIs to an Oakland offense that finished eighth in the American League in runs scored last season.While it would be asking too much for Piazza to match those numbers, his presence in the lineup could make those around him even better. As a part-time catcher for the San Diego Padres last season, the future Hall of Famer hit 22 home runs and drove in 68 runs in 399 at-bats.The Athletics envision a 550 at-bat season from Piazza, who enters the 2007 season with 396 homers as a catcher, the most in MLB history for a backstop. How well he adjusts to being used exclusively as a DH looms large in the big picture.As one of the teams with a relatively modest payroll, the two Winter Meetings moves pretty much get the Athletics ready for Spring Training. Most of the 25-man roster spots are secured, but there still could be some position battles in Spring Training, especially in the outfield.With free-agent outfielder Jay Payton most likely not returning, the A's on Thursday acquired outfielder Ryan Goleski for cash considerations from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.Nick Swisher figures to move from first base to left field and Dan Johnson is the likely first baseman."We want to leave D.J. alone and let the kid play," Beane said. "He's too good a hitter and too important to the team. We are all Dan Johnson fans.''Deals done: Signed Embree to a two-year contract. Reached agreement with free-agent Piazza on a one-year contract, pending a physical.Rule 5 activity: Selected RHP Jay Marshall from the Chicago White Sox; selected RHP Andy Shipman from Chicago Cubs; selected RHP Josh Allison from Milwaukee Brewers. Acquired OF Goleski from Tampa Bay Devil Rays for cash considerations; lost RHP Jared Burton to the Cincinnati Reds.Goals accomplished: Potentially filled the only opening in starting rotation. Embree moves into the bullpen, allowing Kennedy, Saarloos and Hasley to compete for the No. 5 spot during Spring Training.Unfinished business: Piazza must pass a physical before his deal is finalized. Beane wants to add another right-handed-hitting outfielder.GM's bottom line: "We've got a lot of the winter to go. There will be a certain amount of hyperactivity." -- Beane
I like him too...but man he's only a shadow of his former self. I'm surprised he found a team to sign him.
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