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Sport Sections
Wednesday, January 10
Deal includes Roberto Hernandez to K.C.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- By getting Johnny Damon, the Oakland Athletics are gambling they'll be a better team this season -- even if he's only around for one year.

Damon, the speedy Kansas City outfielder coveted by many big-market teams, was acquired by the A's on Monday in a surprising three-team trade involving nine players.

Johnny Damon
655 136214 1688 .327

The deal also sent outfielder Ben Grieve from the Athletics to Tampa Bay and moved closer Roberto Hernandez from the Devil Rays to the Royals.

Catcher A.J. Hinch and reliever Cory Lidle were the only other major league players in the deal.

Though Damon, one of the most sought-after players on the trade market, will be eligible for free agency after next season and will demand the kind of money the small-market Royals knew they could never pay, the AL West champion A's felt the risk of losing Damon next winter was outweighed by his talents.

"That's part of the risk you take when you go into something like this to make us much better," Oakland GM Billy Beane said. "This is a dimension that this team hasn't had for the last two years. We haven't had this type of player probably since Rickey (Henderson) was in his prime."

The deal gives the Devil Rays another powerful bat while continuing their youth movement, and it gives the Royals badly needed bullpen help.

Ben Grieve
Striking out a career-high 130 times and grounding into a major league-leading 32 double plays made Ben Grieve expendable.

But most significantly, it gives a new dimension to the Athletics, who stole just 40 bases last year, often played terrible defense and relied heavily on the long ball.

"It means we've got to get a steal sign now," Beane said.

Damon's agent, Scott Boras, said the leadoff hitter will test the market before signing a contract extension anywhere.

"The timetable was running out, and that's what dictated this," a somber Kansas City GM Allard Baird said. "If we had felt for one minute that we could sign Johnny to a long-term deal, then obviously we would not have made this deal."

Damon was vacationing in Hawaii when the deal was struck and apparently was the last to hear the news. He seemed stunned by it, according to the Kansas City Star.

"I got back from horseback riding, and there were nine messages on my machine," Damon, who refused to negotiate a long-term contract with the team, told the Star. "It took me six or seven of them to find out what team I was traded to."

After the initial shock, Damon was looking forward to joining the A's.

"They definitely have all pieces in place, and they've got great young pitchers," he told the Star. "Hopefully, with the addition of me, they'll be better."

The A's still must sign him for the current season either through arbitration or negotiation, but Beane was confident a deal would be completed soon.

Damon hit .327 with 16 homers and 88 RBI last season for the Royals, the fifth straight year in which his offensive numbers improved. He had career highs in hits (214), runs (136), doubles (42), RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

He led the AL with 46 stolen bases and 136 runs scored. Beane also noted that Damon had a higher slugging percentage (.495) than Grieve (.487).

Beane admitted the A's wanted to improve in the wake of Alex Rodriguez's $252 million signing with AL West rival Texas.

Several teams wanted Damon, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Mets and Oakland's cross-bay neighbors, the San Francisco Giants. But by sacrificing part of their impressive stockpile of young talent, the A's got him -- even if it's only for a year.

"Johnny Damon brings a lot of things that this club was lacking," Beane said. "Plus, how many times are you going to find a guy with his kind of speed and his kind of defensive abilities who also has a chance to hit 20 homers a year?"

Grieve hit .279 with 27 homers and 104 RBI last season, but the A's had been looking to deal him this offseason after he struck out a career-high 130 times and grounded into a major league-leading 32 double plays.

"If you're asking me if I wanted to be traded, no," Grieve said on a conference call. "At the same time I have the attitude that if they're going to trade me, not to hang my head."

He signed a four-year, $13 million deal last March, but just two seasons after bursting onto the scene for Oakland, he had become a spare part on a team with AL MVP Jason Giambi, Terrence Long, Adam Piatt and John Jaha.

"We could not pass the opportunity to get a young bat like Ben's," said Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar, who also admitted that Grieve's secure contract status was attractive. "In our opinion, the sky's the limit for what he can accomplish at the plate."

Grieve originally thought he'd be part of Oakland's nucleus for a long time.

"In spring training when I signed the contract I had that feeling," he said. "But things change over the course of time. I didn't have the kind of season I wanted to have or maybe they wanted me to have. At the end of the season, I didn't have the same feeling."

Hernandez was 4-7 with a 3.19 ERA and 32 saves last season. The 36-year-old right-hander has been among the majors' top relievers for several seasons.

"He's arguably been our most valuable player since the franchise started," LaMar said. "We've been very resilient in coming up with pitching, and we're going to have to do it again."

The Royals also acquired Hinch, 26, minor league infielder Angel Berroa and cash from the A's. Baird called Berroa a key to the deal.

"He is a legitimate shortstop, tremendous upside," Baird said.

Regarded as a top prospect early in his career, Hinch played only six games for Oakland last season. Berroa hit .277 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI for Class A Visalia.

The Athletics got Lidle, 28, from Tampa Bay. He was 4-6 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 games, and his performance in a 4-0 shutout of Oakland in September put his name on the A's list.

Oakland also acquired minor league infielder Mark Ellis and a player to be named from Kansas City. Ellis hit a combined .302 with 26 stolen bases in Class A and Double-A.

Tampa Bay got a player to be named or cash from the Athletics.

Oakland designated pitcher Ariel Prieto for assignment. He was 1-2 with a 5.12 ERA for the A's.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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 Jason Giambi is glad to have Johnny Damon join the A's in the lead-off spot.
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 Kansas City GM Allard Baird talks about what he was looking for in the trade.
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 Royals GM Allard Baird wanted to keep Johnny Damon but is glad to be getting Roberto Hernandez in the deal.
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 Oakland GM Billy Beane says the trade was balanced for each team involved.
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