Offseason Outlook: Oakland Athletics

As the Athletics await resolution on their stadium situation, they’ll look to restore outfield depth and improve their weak offense.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Contract Options

Michael Wuertz, RP: $3.25MM club option with a $250K buyout; no Elias Ranking

Free Agents

The Athletics are in limbo, waiting for MLB’s assessment of their stadium situation and confronting the possibility that Billy Beane could leave the Bay Area for another GM job. With so much uncertainty and the worst attendance figures in MLB, it’s difficult for Oakland to make long-term plans. Spending decisions are temporarily on hold for the A's. 

Stadium and relocation issues aside, the front office has its share of on-field questions. All three of Oakland’s starting outfielders hit free agency along with their primary designated hitter and a starting pitcher. It seems likely that the A’s will seek offense to rebound from this year’s 74-88 record and make a push for the postseason. But as C.J. Wilson reminded Beane & Co. this summer, attracting free agents of any kind to the Oakland Coliseum makes luring fans there seem easy.

If the A's decline Michael Wuertz's option and tender contracts to all nine of their arbitration eligible players, they'll have committed about $40.75MM to next year's payroll (minimum salary players not included). Oakland's payroll has been in the $58-67MM range since 2009, so it won't be surprising if they're working with approximately $20MM this offseason.

The offense is the most obvious place for Beane to spend. Oakland's lineup featured little pop besides Josh Willingham in 2011 and ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored (645). Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus will be among the most sought-after free agent outfielders of the offseason, so re-signing them won't be easy, though the A’s appear to have interest in bringing Willingham and Crisp back.

The A's can obtain two draft picks for Willingham, who would obtain a raise from $6MM if he accepted arbitration from Oakland. It's an acceptable risk for the A's given the possible picks, Willingham's free agent prospects and the limited downside of a one-year deal. An offer of arbitration for DeJesus, a bounce-back candidate in 2012, seems less likely.

Without the organizational stability to spend aggressively or the ability to attract big-name free agents, the A's may turn to the trade market, where Ryan SpilborghsCarlos QuentinAngel Pagan and B.J. Upton could be available as alternatives to internal options such as Michael TaylorRyan Sweeney and Jai Miller. Oakland's pitching staff is a definite strength and it could be the currency Beane uses to acquire outfield help and address minor needs.

It appears likely that designated hitter Hideki Matsui will return on a one-year deal. Matsui generates revenue and won’t command more than a few million, but most teams look for more than 12 homers and a .696 OPS from their designated hitter. David Ortiz would provide more offense, but he’ll be significantly more expensive than Matsui.

Scott Sizemore’s impressive 2011 performance (.249/.345/.433 with 11 HR in 355 plate appearances) has earned him a shot at the everyday third base job. Joining him on the infield will be promising 24-year-old second baseman Jemile Weeks and shortstop Cliff PenningtonDaric Barton (recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder) and a collection of minimum salary players – Brandon Allen Chris Carter, Kila Ka'aihue and Adam Rosales – round out the infield. Even if the A's believe in Sizemore and their collection of first base candidates at the corner positions, they'll need to add bench depth after parting with multiple infielders last season. 

Few teams would be comfortable relying on such an inexperienced group of position players. Allen, Weeks, Pennington, Sizemore, Taylor, Sweeney and Miller have combined for fewer MLB plate appearances than Matsui (4953 vs. 4677), and he played in Japan until he was 29.

The A’s didn’t score much in 2011, but their run prevention was better than average (sixth in the AL), even though they only got three starts from Dallas Braden and 13 from Brett Anderson. Both left-handers could return in 2012: Braden, now recovering from shoulder surgery, is a possibility for the Opening Day rotation (assuming Oakland tenders him a contract) and Anderson could return from Tommy John surgery midseason. They’ll join Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Guillermo Moscoso in a deep rotation that could include Tyson Ross or Josh Outman, if necessary. 

Rich Harden could re-sign in Oakland and provide the club with additional insurance. At this point, they don’t appear to need it, but every pitching staff encounters injuries. Plus, it’s conceivable that the A’s would listen to offers for Gio Gonzalez, who will earn at least $3MM as a first-time arbitration eligible player. The 26-year-old is under team control through 2015 and would instantly become one of the most coveted pitchers of the offseason, if Beane made him available.

The bullpen will feature Craig Breslow, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Andrew Bailey again. It seems unlikely that the A's would commit over $3MM to Wuertz after such a disappointing season, so they'll probably decline his option and rely on the likes of Joey Devine (sidelined with a rhomboid strain), Jerry Blevins and Fautino De Los Santos to fill out the 'pen. The group was adequate in 2011 and should be as good in 2012, with most of its members returning.

As much as anything, Oakland's offseason revolves around the possibility that they'll move to a new stadium or city. Yes, the A's will patch up their outfield and tinker with their pitching staff, and next year's team will be much better if the offense improves and the pitching holds up. But for the long-term health of the franchise to improve, the A's need resolution on the stadium issue.

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