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Rockies, A's complete Holliday deal

Rockies, A's complete Holliday deal

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In the first blockbuster trade of the offseason, the Rockies dealt two-time All-Star slugger Matt Holliday to the A's for closer Huston Street, left-handed starter Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

The A's got the big bat they needed to jump-start their offense next season in a deal that was pending for two days before being finally announced Wednesday.

"Matt is an MVP-caliber player," said Billy Beane, general manager of an A's team that finished 75-86 in the American League West -- 24 1/2 games behind the first-place Angels. "I'm not Pollyannaish enough to think you go from 75 to 95 wins [with this one trade]. We want to be better than we were last year, and this is part of that process."

The Rockies, meanwhile, are parting ways with one of their top players and a 2007 National League MVP candidate while bringing in a trio of players with Major League experience. Holliday, who will earn $13.5 million this coming season, can file for free agency at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

"The one thing that was surprising was that the large-market teams had no interest at all," said Rox GM Dan O'Dowd. "We talked to St. Louis, but that was the largest market. It was mostly mid-to-lower-market clubs. I think the large markets looked and said a year from now he was going to be a free agent, and they weren't going to be able to sign him."

Gonzalez and Smith were obtained from Arizona last offseason in a deal that sent pitcher Dan Haren to the D-backs. The Rockies need right-handed Street because of the inevitability of losing left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes on the free-agent market.

Holliday joins slugger Jack Cust and possibly Eric Chavez, who may return from more shoulder surgery, in bolstering an offense that was last in the AL in batting average (.242), runs scored (646), RBIs (610) and hits (1,318), and ranked 11th in home runs (125) in 2008.

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"Matt is a much-needed hitter who fills a premium spot," Beane said. "We needed to upgrade our offense. That was obvious."

Holliday had a banner year in 2007, when the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in their first trip to the World Series. He batted .340 with 36 homers and 137 RBIs in 158 games, and he scored the winning run in the 13th inning of the one-game tiebreaker for the NL's Wild Card berth that sent Colorado into the postseason for only the second time.

The 74-88 Rockies slumped to a third-place finish in 2008 behind the NL West-winning Dodgers, and Holliday -- nursing a left hamstring injury -- played in only 139 games while hitting .321 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs.

Prior to the start of the 2008 season, the Rockies offered Holliday a contact that was potentially worth five years and $84.5 million -- $18 million for four years and a player option worth $12.5 million for an additional year -- O'Dowd revealed Wednesday. But Holliday, who is a client of agent Scott Boras, turned down the offer.

"This wasn't going to go away," O'Dowd said. "It was going to be a distraction. And that's nothing against Mattie. He's earned the right to be a free agent after next season, and he's earned the right to pick where he plays after next season. There's no hard feelings, no animosity."

In a recent interview, Holliday said he was upset at quotes from the Rockies' ownership earlier in the offseason that indicated the unsuccessful contract negotiations distracted the club in 2008. But Wednesday, Holliday avoided the issue.

"I'm not going to comment on anything that happened in the past," Holliday said in a telephone conference with media. "I appreciate my time in the Rockies' organization. I spent my 10 or 11 years in pro ball [there], and the last five years in the Major Leagues. I'll take the memories of the 2007 season with me.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about what people did say or didn't say, or what was important and what wasn't. I really care about how my teammates and friends and coaches think of me and how I handle my business."

Holliday may carry some risk for the A's, depending on how he adjusts to playing none of his games in Denver. He is a career .357 hitter with 84 home runs, a .423 on-base percentage and a .645 slugging percentage at hitter-friendly Coors Field. But on the road, he has hit .280 with 44 homers, a .348 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging percentage.

Still, with it all, Holliday said he was a little unsettled by the trade.

"Originally, it was a little bit of a surprise, considering I've never been traded before," Holliday said. "Any time you make a change, there's a bit of an unknown."

His high salary is a departure for the economically conscious A's, but renting a player for one year prior to free agency fits right into their philosophy. And Beane wouldn't speculate about trading Holliday at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline if the A's are floundering.

"We'll focus on the whole year," Beane said. "Matt's a premium player, so we'll cross that bridge when get to it. It's no secret he's going to command a significant contract, and when we get to that point we'll deal with it. To address it before that, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."

Street was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 2005 and has saved 94 games in his four seasons, including a career-high 37 in 2006. But he fell out of favor last season in Oakland and was replaced in the closer role by Brad Ziegler, who was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 11 saves in 13 opportunities after he was called up in late May. Ziegler set an MLB record by opening his career with 39 1/3 scoreless innings.

Street made $3.3 million in 2008 as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. His salary will increase this winter, but the Rockies will have him under their control for two more seasons.

Smith was 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts, and he said that he is happy to be heading back to the NL West. The only concern for Colorado was the surgery Smith had to remove "floating bodies" from his left elbow on Oct. 28. But he passed Tuesday's physical with no problems.

"I can wear black cleats and hit again," Smith said.

Gonzalez, considered to be one of the top prospects in the Arizona organization at the time he was traded for Haren, has bounced back and forth between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento. He hit .242 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games for the A's, and .283 with four homers and 28 RBIs in 46 games for Sacramento in 2008.

"This is baseball," Gonzalez said about the trade. "You can't do anything about it. You just have to get ready to play. Holliday is a very attractive player, and he'll be great for the Oakland A's.

"It will be great for me, too. I can make my name in a new organization, but I'll always thank the A's for giving me the opportunity, for bringing me up."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Thomas Harding and Mychael Urban contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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