OAKLAND — Speaking publicly for the first time since the controversial trades of star pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, Oakland Athletics co-owner Steve Schott insisted he didn't order the trades as a cost-cutting measure, but supported the bold decisions by general manager Billy Beane.

Schott also said the trades were not to position the A's to be sold more easily and suggested Barry Zito's healthy track record was the reason he was the member of "The Big Three" who was picked to stay.

"Let me first say, I gave Billy no mandate to slash the payroll," Schott said. "We knew we had a tough decision for sure with Tim and that was, without a doubt, one of the toughest. Those two guys have been, in my experience as owner, the greatest two pitchers we may ever see in a long time. They were warriors. They pitched their heart out and had great stuff."

The A's knew signing Hudson to a fair-market contract would be tough. But after the contracts dished out this winter — from the sub-.500 Kris Benson (three years, $22.5 million) to Pedro Martinez (four years, $53 million) — the A's knew it would be impossible to sign Hudson within their payroll limits.

"(Hudson) deserves something in the low or high $50 (millions) for four years," Schott said. "Telling Billy to slash the payroll was never in any discussion. It was how do we deal with Tim. If we can't sign him, make a trade that will fit our needs. We think we did that." Shortly after the Hudson trade, Beane told Schott he was thinking of trading Mulder too.


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"I said, 'I'm not thoroughly excited by it, but if you think we can get a lot of value for Mark, then we'll do it. We have to bite the bullet,'" Schott said. "We have to retool and restructure the system. We can only do it the way Billy does it. We draft and try to trade now for players who come up through the system.

"The Mark Mulder situation was tougher for me. With Tim, we knew we couldn't compete (financially for him). We're much better off now. Their absence is tough. But the team is more balanced. We feel good. It's young. The bullpen is much better. The outfield will be strong as well."

Trading Hudson and Mulder saved the A's about $11 million to $12 million this year. Schott said the A's payroll will be in the lower $60 million range, a slight increase.

"Somebody asked me why (we kept) Zito," Schott said. "He's had his ups and downs. But the objective with Barry is he has two years left (on his contract) and he hasn't been injured. He's been healthy. We need a leader and I think Barry will be it."

Schott was then asked if he had health concerns about Hudson and Mulder.

"It's clear — because these guys pitched a lot," Schott said. "They had to throw a lot. I'm not being critical of our coaching staff and manager. We didn't have a deep bullpen, so they had to pitch a lot more than they would under different circumstances with a stronger bullpen. That wore them down. Maybe that's why some of these injuries came up."

Zito hasn't missed a start since reaching the majors in 2000. Hudson was hindered by a strained oblique during the 2002 playoffs, departed after one inning in game four of the 2003 playoffs because of the injury, and missed six weeks because of the injury last season.

A herniated disk in Mulder's back ended his 2000 season in September and back problems rarely go away. A stress fracture to Mulder's right femur ended his 2003 season in mid-August. Mulder was healthy during the 2004 stretch drive, but fell apart and didn't win a game the final two months.

"I don't think (those injuries) are going to stop (Hudson and Mulder) from continuing to pitch as well as they have," Schott said. "They are both outstanding pitchers and I wish the best for them. It's been a very emotional thing for me. For the fans, I'm sure it's the same thing. You were excited every time one of those guys were on the mound. I'm going to miss them, and I hope they do well."

The letters to the editor and posts on A's message boards have mostly been negative about Beane's trades. Schott pointed to the track record of Beane and asked the A's fan base to keep that in mind. 

"Billy's done wonderful things for the ballclub," Schott said. "Let's face it, his percentage of being right over wrong is so far up the ladder it's definitely remarkable. I'm not a scout or a guy who has time to evaluate who we are getting. I gave him a lot of flexibility to go in that direction and he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt.

"Everybody criticized this thing. But the more you look at it, they are going to be outstanding stars down the road. Billy made some good moves. We were on the same page on this — all the way along."

Schott created a position a year ago for Lewis Wolff to search for a new ballpark and the funding for it. The deal gave Wolff an option to purchase a share of the team, which Wolff is doing, but Schott denied he's looking to sell the team.

"Right now, (Wolff) is trying to buy (co-owner and silent partner) Ken Hofmann out," Schott said. "I don't think any of this positioning is going to make it easier to sell. If that was the case, we would just leave it status quo. Why would I want to make a decision, as difficult as it was on Tim and Mark, if I really thought I'd sell the team?

"Lou is here to work with the city and county on a new stadium. That's all he's concentrating on. The bottom line is that we retooled this roster to be as competitive as we can and hopefully in the thick of it."