Offseason Outlook: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics have contractual control over their entire starting lineup, including platoons, so GM Billy Beane will stay the course in 2014 after a second consecutive AL West title. 

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Athletics' main objective this offseason should be to figure out a way to beat Justin Verlander in an ALDS Game 5, which is how each of their past two post-season runs have ended. With tongue no longer firmly planted in cheek, the Athletics' priority this winter is what to do if, as expected, Balfour departs via free agency and to determine whether Colon's stabilizing influence is still needed for their young rotation.

The Athletics are loathe to spend valuable resources on a closer and MLBTR's Steve Adams sees Balfour netting a two-year, $18MM contract in free agency. Beane and manager Bob Melvin have both said Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook are options to replace the Australian with Beane also mentioning Dan Otero. If the Athletics want to purchase an insurance policy, there aren't many free agent closers who will accept a one-year deal in the club's price range, but Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Gregg could fall into that category. If they simply want a veteran presence in the bullpen on a team-friendly contract, LaTroy Hawkins, David Aardsma, Kyle Farnsworth, and Brandon Lyon could provide that. Jerry Blevins and Jesse Chavez will return to round out the relief corps.

Colon, who wants to pitch three more years, is amenable to returning to Oakland and Beane has acknowledged it "would be foolish" not to "have real interest in bringing him back." There's interest, but is there room in the rotation? Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin have injury concerns; but, if healthy, expect to front the rotation along with Jarrod Parker. Brett Anderson, Dan Straily, and Tommy Milone will compete to fill out the rotation. The oft-injured Anderson is generating some trade interest with the Blue Jays most prominently linked to the left-hander. In his Blue Jays' offseason outlook, MLBTR's Mark Polishuk theorizes Toronto could deal closer Casey Janssen for starting pitching. There is a 2014 club option on Janssen worth $4MM, which would make him appealing to the Athletics. The Blue Jays may be willing to absorb the $4MM difference in salaries in a straight-up trade for Anderson or Oakland would have to become creative by including additional player(s) and/or international bonus slot money. Dealing Anderson would also free up a rotation spot for Colon, but re-signing the 40-year-old will be dependent on how much of a raise he expects from his expiring one-year, $3MM deal. 

Most of the Athletics' other offseason moves will be procedural: which members of their 11-player arbitration class will be tendered contracts and which club options will be exercised. With regards to the former, Daric Barton, Pat Neshek, Scott Sizemore, and Fernando Rodriguez are non-tender possibilities. All four, however, are candidates to be re-signed to minor league deals. With regards to the latter, Beane has said Coco Crisp will be back in the Green and Gold next year. Crisp would like a multi-year extension, but that is a higher priority for him than the team. Anderson's option is also likely to be exercised while Chris Young and Kurt Suzuki are too expensive to retain in bench roles. Michael Choice, the team's second-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, will be called upon to fill Young's spot while the Athletics are flush behind the plate with John Jaso, Derek Norris, and Stephen Vogt competing for playing time.

The one position where the Athletics could look for an upgrade is second base. Beane may decide to bide his time with the platoon of Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard while waiting for shortstop Addison Russell to reach the Majors. Once that happens, current shortstop Jed Lowrie could move over to second base. Russell, the 11th overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft will start the year in either Double-A or Triple-A, according to Beane. The best available free agent second baseman Robinson Cano is too pricey for the Athletics. Potential trade targets like Rickie Weeks (whose brother, Jemile, is in the A's system) and Dan Uggla have both underperformed the past two seasons and are expensive. An intriguing possibility is Brandon Phillips, who has apparently worn out his welcome in Cincinnati. Phillips slumped in 2013 with a slash line of .261/.310/.396 in 606 plate appearances, but that would still be an improvement over the Callaspo/Sogard tandem. Phillips is due $50MM through 2017. Would Beane be willing to take on such a large salary obligation with Russell in the wings? The answer depends on the Reds' asking price in terms of money absorbed to prospects received.

The Athletics ranked third in the AL in runs scored thanks to a breakout year from third baseman Josh Donaldson (.301/.384/.499 and 24 home runs). Yoenis Cespedes fell off from his outstanding rookie campaign with a .240/.294/.442 slash line, but the 28-year-old Cuban redeemed himself somewhat by hitting .381/.409/.667 in the ALDS and is a career .350/.395/.525 hitter in 43 post-season plate appearances. Brandon Moss also contributed a career-best 30 home runs in a career-high 505 plate appearances. Josh Reddick struggled with a right wrist injury and his numbers suffered because of it. Reddick will undergo arthroscopic surgery and should be at full strength by Spring Training. With this core, Beane thinks an additional bat would be nice, but not necessary.

"You could always use more, but…scoring runs wasn't an issue for us," said Beane (as quoted by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle). "The body of work is pretty good. You'll look for ways to be better for sure, but realistically what we have and what's going to be available to us, it's hard to complain about that.

The Athletics have won 190 games the past two years en route to a pair of division titles. But, each season ended with ALDS heartbreak at the hands of Verlander and the Tigers. With so much success, the Athletics don't see a need to make dramatic changes to overcome their playoff failures. "We won our division doing things a certain way," Beane said (as quoted by MLB.com's Jane Lee). "We just fell one game short. I don't know that you completely try to do things differently based on coming up a game short." Each move Beane makes this winter will be geared towards bridging that one-game gap. 


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