General manager Billy Beane, however, seems to think Piazza has a shot at measuring up to Thomas' production last year given the numbers Piazza put up for the Padres -- .283 batting average, 22 homers, 68 RBIs -- in 439 plate appearances.Thomas, who batted .270 last year, had 556 plate appearances. "We knew if we lost Frank, Mike would be a natural segue way for us," Beane said. "[Piazza] had a good year last year, and it would have been an even better year with more at-bats." Said Piazza: "From the start, Billy was adamant about how much I can help this ballclub." New Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who managed the Padres last year, is with Beane. "The guy can flat-out hit," Bochy said of Piazza. "He swung the bat very well for me last year and did a great job in the cleanup spot. He's going to take that to Oakland. He still has the ability to do a lot of damage to a baseball. That's a great pickup for them." Though his .309 lifetime batting average, 419 homers and 1,291 career RBIs were obviously the primary reasons Oakland targeted Piazza over the winter, and Beane and Geren have made it clear that he'll catch only in emergencies, Piazza conceded that he isn't ready to put the "tools of ignorance" on a shelf just yet. "I'll play it by ear," he said. "I'll probably start with some bullpens. It's something I'll use to get myself in shape and keep myself in shape. I understand why they brought me here. ... [But] I plan to stay connected. I'm an old catcher at heart." Geren said he doesn't want his DH to catch any bullpen sessions for fear of jammed fingers and the like, but he said Piazza will contribute on the "mental side," sitting in on the catchers' meetings and chipping in on game plans. "He's our DH, and that's why we signed him," Geren said. "We've had that talk several times." During his first workout, Piazza could be seen talking with a number of his new teammates. And not surprisingly, one of them was outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, who seemed attached to Thomas' hip at times last season. "It's the same exact thing, so I'll say the same exact thing I said last year," Swisher said. "When you get a chance to pick the brain of a Hall of Famer, you're an idiot if you don't take advantage of it. ... Plus, he's a really good guy. I mean, you never know about someone until you actually get to talk to him, but I can already tell he's a great dude." Piazza said he's flattered when young players want to pick his brain. He's heard what a good influence Thomas was in the A's clubhouse, and he'd like to follow suit. "I think it's great when guys want to talk baseball, go out to lunch, whatever," Piazza said. "I love this game so much, that's kind of my small way of giving something back." Piazza raved about the clubhouse chemistry of the A's and said he enjoyed the "picnic" atmosphere at Papago Park, where a fan handed him a present for his baby daughter, Nicoletta, who was born on Feb. 3. "It's tough walking around with a pink-bowed present in front of all the guys when they think you're this tough guy from the past," Piazza said with a big smile. "But that was nice. ... Everyone here is over-the-top nice. "I'm just really, really happy to be here."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.