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Tuesday, December 3
Updated: December 5, 5:38 PM ET
Koch, Foulke at center of A's-White Sox trade

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Billy Koch's reward for being the AL's top closer is a moving van.

Monday, Dec. 2
Keith Foulke is an excellent pitcher, Mark Johnson gives the Athletics a left-handed-hitting catcher with good plate discipline, and Joe Valentine has the statistics and the stuff to eventually pitch as a set-up man or perhaps even as a closer in the major leagues someday.

"Short-term, this deal makes sense because we get Foulke and a young, left-handed-hitting catcher," Athletics assistant GM Paul DePodesta said. "We felt like we needed to get younger at that position, because we've been playing Ramon Hernandez too many games, to the point that he's worn out late in the season. And long-term, for giving up the following two years of Koch (2004 and 2005), we get Valentine, who's got a good chance to be a back-end pitcher in the major leagues."

While it's true that minor-league closers generally don't become major-league closers -- Valentine saved 36 games in Double-A last season -- DePodesta thinks Valentine might break that mold. "Our scouts have seen nothing to suggest that his success won't continue. His fastball's got good life to it, low to mid-90s, and he's got a slider. His fastball gets a fair amount of swings and misses, and a lot of mis-hits."

But in addition to acquiring three players they like, the A's also get payroll flexibility and perhaps a couple of draft picks. Foulke's contract expires after the 2003 season, and if he leaves Oakland -- and the current draft rules remain -- the A's will get two high draft picks as compensation.

As Billy Beane likes to say, "Cash is king."

The Oakland Athletics shipped Koch to the Chicago White Sox in a six-player trade Tuesday, dumping yet another big salary with an eye toward future payrolls.

''My initial reaction was, 'What's a guy got to do to stay with the team?'' said Koch, who was traded to Oakland by Toronto last December. ''It's sort of frustrating, but then you turn around and look at it as a new start. I look at it as a challenge.''

In exchange for Koch and two minor leaguers, the Athletics get White Sox closer Keith Foulke, catcher Mark Johnson, minor league right-hander Joe Valentine and cash.

The deal is a financial wash this year because of the cash from Chicago. But it allows Oakland to free up money in the future.

Koch had a $2.35 million base salary this season and made $150,000 in performance bonuses. Eligible for salary arbitration for the next three seasons, his salary is likely to double this winter and go up even more in future years.

Foulke is due $6 million next season, but then becomes eligible for free agency.

''If you look at our payroll after this year and the forecast for where Billy's salary is going to go, it's unrealistic to believe we could have held onto him,'' Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. ''This is going to give us a little more flexibility going forward from a payroll standpoint.''

Though the A's considered signing Koch to a long-term deal last season, it just wasn't possible economically. The small-market team had a $42 million payroll last season, and Beane said it will rise next year.

''Obviously, performance is always a consideration. Economics, in our situation, is always a factor in trades, (so is) the future,'' he said. ''There's a little bit of all three in this trade for us.''

But it wasn't an easy deal to make. Koch, who turns 28 on Opening Day, has emerged as one of the AL's top closers, becoming the first ever to start his career with four consecutive 30-save seasons.

He won AL reliever of the year honors this season, going 11-4 with 44 saves. His 11 victories were tops among major league relievers, and he led the AL with 84 appearances. Only Minnesota's Eddie Guardado had more saves in the AL, with 45.

In four seasons, Koch is 22-17 with 144 saves and a 3.48 ERA.

''I've been after Billy Koch for a couple of years now,'' White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said. ''We felt good about our bullpen for 2003 (before the trade). Now we feel good about it for 2003, 2004 and 2005.''

Williams said he would like to sign Koch to an extension and avoid arbitration if possible. That sounds pretty good to Koch, too.

''Yeah, it'd be nice to get settled at least for a few years,'' he said. ''But it's all about winning, getting in there and knowing the guys and having some fun.''

Foulke saved a career-high 42 games in 2001 and ranks third on the White Sox saves list. But he struggled last season and lost his closer role in early June. He went from June 27 to Sept. 17 without a save, and finished with only 11. He was 2-4 with a 2.90 ERA.

Foulke did regain some of his old form at the end of the year, not allowing an earned run in his final 17 2/3 innings. He also led the AL in fewest walks per nine innings (1.51) and was second in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

''Relative to his previous two years that would be struggling,'' Beane said. ''But relative to everyone else in baseball, that would be an outstanding year.

''We think this guy's still one of the premier end-of-the-game guys in our league.''

And the trade addresses the A's need for a backup catcher and gives them a promising young reliever.

Johnson had a career-high .994 fielding percentage in 86 games last year.

Valentine, a converted catcher, was acquired off waivers from Detroit last season. He went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.97 ERA at Double-A Birmingham last season.

He was selected minor league reliever of the year after leading all of the minors in saves.

The teams cannot disclose the two other players Chicago is getting because minor league rosters are frozen until after the winter meeting draft on Dec. 16.

''I wish we could talk about them, because we are just as excited to have them on board as Billy,'' Williams said. ''I think we have the makings of a pretty special group of players here, and I want to allow them to grow for a number of years.''

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AllNight: New A's pitcher Keith Foulke tells Todd Wright about his new home and possible role with Oakland.

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