Piazza joins NL West champs

Piazza joins NL West champs

SAN DIEGO -- Mike Piazza, who has more home runs than any other catcher in Major League history, and the San Diego Padres have agreed to terms on one-year contract, reportedly at $2 million with a mutual option for 2007 at $8 million.

Padres executive vice president and general manager Kevin Towers announced the signing late Tuesday afternoon. Piazza was reportedly traveling and is expected to be in town early next week.

"We're very excited to have him be on our side for once," said Towers. "He's always been a Padres nemesis with the Dodgers and the Mets. And I can remember quite a few times where one swing of the bat ended up beating our ballclub.

"So having him in the middle of our lineup makes us a much better offensive ballclub and his experience and his knowledge of the National League behind the plate is a big plus," Towers added. "He's caught ballclubs which have gone into the playoffs and to a World Series. And I think having that experience behind the plate will be a real positive -- knowing the National League hitters as well as he does."

The 37-year old Piazza, who has 397 home runs, 376 as a catcher, batted .251 (100-for-398) with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 113 games for the New York Mets in 2005 before becoming a free agent. He was selected to play in his 12th All-Star Game, making his 10th start.

"I've heard nothing but amazing things about the city of San Diego and I am excited to finally have the opportunity to play there," Piazza said in a statement released by the team. "I hope that I can help bring another division title back to San Diego, then continue on to a successful postseason run."

Piazza has told Towers that he feels he can catch between 70 and 90 games, sharing that load with Doug Mirabelli, who was acquired from the Red Sox in exchange for Mark Loretta.

Piazza is also expected to play first base against left-handers and will be the teams DH during Interleague play.

Much has been made in some circles about Piazza's defensive liabilities, mostly because opposing runners have stolen more than 1,300 bases with his success rate at throwing out runners at just 24 percent.

"The numbers don't lie. He struggled last year throwing out runners [just 13-of-95], but having a manager like Bruce Bochy, who was a former catcher, I'm sure can really help him work with his release and his footwork," said Towers. "We're going to have to help him out. Our pitchers are going to have to slide step and do a much better job at holding runners at first. And hopefully, Boch's instruction can help him along.

"I certainly feel, regardless of his numbers, that this guy is going to do enough damage with his bat that will make up for maybe his lack of throwing arm," said Towers. "I do feel that stolen bases are a very overrated stat."

Piazza has hit 20 or more home runs in a season 11 times, 30 or more nine times and has hit a career-high 40 home runs on two separate occasions (1997 and 1999). He has driven in 90 or more runs in 10 different seasons and 100 or more six times highlighted by a career-high 124 in both 1997 and 1999.

The 1997 season was arguably his best. Piazza hit .362 with 40 homers and 124 RBIs, with an on-base percentage of .431 and a slugging percentage of .638. Piazza will likely bat in the cleanup spot between Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko.

Klesko, who led the Padres with 18 home runs last year, is moving from left field to first base. Mike Cameron, Piazza's teammate with the Mets, will be playing center field for the Padres while Dave Roberts is moving over to left.

Another move could be in the offing for the Padres, with David Wells perhaps returning from the Red Sox.

"It sounds like [Wells] plans on reporting to Spring Training with the Red Sox," said Towers. "So I would imagine [the Red Sox] won't have any discussions with clubs probably until the games start in March."

Sandy Burgin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.