Braves bulk up on arms, add Hudson

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Atlanta Braves made another huge pitch for success, getting Tim Hudson from Oakland. And the Seattle Mariners added another slugger, grabbing Adrian Beltre off the free-agent market.

In a brisk day for deals, the Braves made the biggest trade of the offseason Thursday.

With Los Angeles, Boston and the New York Yankees rumored to be pursuing Hudson, the Braves swooped in and got the Athletics ace for outfielder Charles Thomas and pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer.

The Braves have won 13 straight division titles. Last Saturday, they got All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee -- a move that allowed them to move John Smoltz back into the rotation.

"This winter, we have set our sights on going back to sort of the old-fashioned Braves' way of building championship teams with dominant pitching," Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. "That's what we think we have done, and we are excited about the pitching staff we have put together for the season."

After finishing at the bottom of the AL West and winding up last in the league in runs and homers, the Mariners reached agreement with Beltre on a $64 million, five-year deal Thursday, The Associated Press learned.

Beltre's contract was subject to him passing a physical, a person close to the third baseman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The deal could be announced as early as Friday. Seattle did not comment on the agreement.

A day earlier, the Mariners finalized a $50 million, four-year contract with free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson.

Also, Kansas City traded catcher Benito Santiago to Pittsburgh for right-handed prospect Leo Nunez. The Royals also must pay about $1 million of Santiago's $2.15 million salary.

In another deal, Atlanta sent outfielder Eli Marrero to Kansas City for right-hander Jorge Vasquez. The Braves began the day by reaching agreement with Smoltz on $20 million, two-year contract.

With the A's facing yet another payroll crunch, general manager Billy Beane finally broke up his "Big Three" starting pitchers of Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

The trade was finalized around midday Thursday, a day after Beane was talking to three teams about the 29-year-old Hudson.

The Georgia-born Hudson posted 81 wins from 2000-04, tied for the most in the AL over that span.

Hudson was 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 27 starts this season. He made the All-Star team for the second time, but did not pitch because of a strained left side that put him on the disabled list for a month.

Earlier this month, Hudson set a March 1 deadline for the A's to offer him a contract extension, or he planned to leave as a free agent following the 2005 season.

"We certainly traded a major part of our franchise in Tim, but we've also upgraded," Beane said.

Beltre, 25, led the majors with 48 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit .334 with 121 RBIs, and finished second behind Barry Bonds in the NL MVP voting.

The Dodgers wanted to keep Beltre. But Los Angeles recently gave itself some protection, signing free-agent Jeff Kent and saying that he could play third base, along with his usual spot at second.

"We're disappointed. It hurts," Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. "Obviously, we would have loved to have him back."

"I think all of us knew this certainly was a possibility. We feel like we stepped up and made a very competitive offer, actually tried to make it a compelling one by offering a sixth guaranteed year. Unfortunately for us, Adrian decided to go elsewhere."

Beltre made $5 million last season, and figured to cash in after a career year in which he led the Dodgers to the NL West title and their first postseason spot since 1988.

Santiago, a five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, hit .274 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 49 games in 2004, but didn't play after fracturing his left hand June 18.

Nunez was 10-4 with a 3.06 ERA and three complete games for Class A Hickory in 2004.

Thomas made his major league debut last season and batted .288 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Cruz was 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA in 50 relief outings. Meyer was 0-0 in two games with Braves after going 9-6 with a 2.49 ERA at Double-A Greenville and Triple-A Richmond.

Vasquez, 26, also made his major league debut last season, pitching in two games for Kansas City. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Wichita, going 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA and 18 saves.

Marrero hit .320 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in a part-time role with Atlanta. The Braves got him with J.D. Drew last offseason in a trade that sent Jason Marquis to St. Louis.

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