The A's completed their trade with the Colorado Rockies for the star outfielder Wednesday, securing the big bat Oakland sought for the middle of its order.
"Originally, it was a little bit of a surprise considering I've never been traded before," Holliday said. "I spent my first 11 years of professional baseball in the Rockies organization. Any time you make a change there's a bit of an unknown."
Colorado received right-handed reliever Huston Street, lefty starter Greg Smith and promising outfielder Carlos Gonzalez from the A's. The clubs reached a tentative agreement Monday, but had to wait for the results of physicals and other details to be worked out.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said the Rockies earlier this year offered Holliday a deal worth $107.5 million over five seasons, but agent Scott Boras rejected it back in March.
"This wasn't going to go away. It was going to be a distraction," O'Dowd said. "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."
Oakland GM Billy Beane and O'Dowd speak regularly and had discussed Holliday since just after the season ended.
"We landed one of the biggest hitters out there," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He's definitely a piece of the offense you can build around."
This is a major move by an A's team that began rebuilding last winter and is more accustomed to losing star players than acquiring them.
"We wanted a right-handed bat, and we got one," Oakland outfielder Jack Cust said. "It's usually the other way around -- giving away a bigger-name guy for guys who aren't as established. It's definitely exciting going into the season."
A two-time All-Star and runner-up for the 2007 NL MVP award, Holliday is due to make $13.5 million next season. Whether he stays in Oakland past the 2009 season or even next year's All-Star break, nobody knows.
"I'm not worried about that. Oakland wanted me for a reason," Holliday said.
He has 128 homers and 483 RBIs in five big league seasons. His best year was 2007, when he won the NL batting title with a .340 average. He also had 36 homers and a league-best 137 RBIs in helping the Rockies reach the World Series. He finished second to Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins for NL MVP.
Beane said he's still focused on boosting the A's farm system from the bottom on up, and acquiring talented prospects only helps to pull off deals like this one. He's unsure whether Oakland will be able to keep Holliday long-term.
"I'm not Pollyannaish enough to believe you acquire one player and go from 75 to 95 wins," Beane said. "We'll focus on the whole year. Matt's a premium player. I guess we'll sort of cross that bridge when we get to it."
Geren spoke to Holliday by phone just after the deal became official.
"He is going to help us tremendously," Geren said. "We all know the kind of talent he has with his numbers, but I talked to him and you can tell the kind of person he is. It's a great fit."
New A's third base coach Mike Gallego came from the Rockies and has thrown batting practice to Holliday the past three seasons -- so that's a positive for Holliday.
Oakland reached the AL championship series in 2006 before being swept by Detroit. This season, it finished with its worst record (75-86) since going 74-88 in 1998. The A's lost 44 of their last 68 games after being just four games out of first place on July 11.
Oakland was last in the major leagues with a .242 batting average and last in the AL with 646 runs. The A's also used eight starters in left field, so Holliday provides stability in that spot.
"First of all, we needed to upgrade our offense. That was obvious," Beane said. "Matt fills a much-needed spot in the order."
Holliday joins a roster featuring six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez, who is expected to come back healthy from shoulder surgery. The team recently re-signed second baseman Mark Ellis and shortstop Bobby Crosby. Cust batted .231 with a team-leading 33 home runs and 77 RBIs while drawing 111 walks in 2008.
"It's caused a lot of attention around these parts, the fact we got a big guy the Yankees wanted and a lot of other teams wanted," Cust said, speaking by phone from New Jersey.
"The last couple years we've had a lot of injuries and a lot of guys not doing as well as they'd like," he added. "They say hitting is contagious and I believe that. Once you get guys rolling and get the pitcher worrying about a few guys, they've got to really bear down in the middle of the lineup. I played with Matt in Colorado. We were in the minor leagues together and now we'll be in the big leagues together, so it's come full circle."
The 24-year-old Smith had elbow surgery last month. He went 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts and 190 2/3 innings during his first major league season.
The 25-year-old Street was demoted from his closer role last season and finished 7-5 with a 3.73 ERA and 18 saves in 25 chances. He joins a bullpen that includes Manny Corpas but is expected to lose closer Brian Fuentes in free agency. Street can become a free agent after the 2010 season.
Like Smith, the 23-year-old Gonzalez just finished his first big league season. He hit .242 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 302 at-bats.
Also Wednesday, the A's claimed infielder Yung Chi Chen off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. He played last season at Triple-A Tacoma, batting .249 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 69 games but was placed on the disabled list June 26 with torn meniscus in his right knee and sat out the rest of the year.