A's to be aggressive, creative in free agency

A's to be aggressive, creative in free agency

OAKLAND -- The A's are primed for shopping this winter, but their wish list -- think power -- and corresponding budget -- flexible but still limited -- may ultimately result in a lot of window shopping.

Only time will tell how it all plays out and whether the A's bankroll can keep up with other buyers. But that time has started, as all available free agents are officially on the market now that the five-day period clubs have to exclusively negotiate with their own impending free agents has ended.

Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer represented Oakland's lone free agents, both of whom were -- as expected -- not retained by the A's following injury-plagued seasons. The former isn't slated to return to a mound until 2012, while the latter is hoping to latch on with another team.

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Play Free Agent Frenzy

The A's, then, turn to other free agents. The club's need for a power bat or two is well documented, most notably in the fact that the team once again ranked at or near the bottom of several offensive categories this season, including home runs. Pitching, meanwhile, is essentially of no worry for a club that boasts a rotation of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. Even the No. 5 starter spot, up for grabs, offers plenty of viable candidates.

Therefore, general manager Billy Beane's focus this offseason will revolve around the lineup, one in dire need of a productive designated hitter and possibly another power threat, likely in the form of a corner outfielder. The general consensus within Oakland and beyond is that, with an upgraded offense to match the talented pitching staff, the A's can be a strong contender in 2011.

Beane has said that his staff will explore both the free-agent and trade markets in order to accomplish this, but the second option appears more realistic for an A's team that will once again play with a payroll that sits near the bottom of the Majors.

The club certainly has a large wad of green coming off the books, most notably Sheets' $10 million and Eric Chavez's $12.5 million option, which was declined. Still, chasing big-name free agents such as Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn and Hideki Matsui won't be so easy. Beane has had problems in the past enticing similar players to play in Oakland. Even more, the Werths and Dunns of the baseball world are expected to engage in lengthy discussions with other -- and wealthier -- teams.

So, while the free-agent market certainly offers the A's much of what's keeping them from becoming a true threat in the American League, the team's brass is expected to stay the cautious route, mindful of both a long-term budget and long-term success. Bottom line: Expect Beane to be creatively aggressive.

CONTRACT ISSUES

Free agents: Justin Duchscherer, RHP; Ben Sheets, RHP.

Eligible for arbitration: Craig Breslow, LHP; Dallas Braden, LHP; Ryan Sweeney, OF; Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B; Rajai Davis, OF; Joey Devine, RHP; Conor Jackson, OF; Jack Cust, OF; Travis Buck, OF.

Super Two possibility: Brad Ziegler, RHP.

Player options: None.

Club options: Mark Ellis, 2B, $6 million; Eric Chavez, DH, $12.5 million; Coco Crisp, OF, $5.75 million.

Non-tender possibilities: Conor Jackson, OF; Jack Cust, OF; Travis Buck, OF.

AREAS OF NEED

Designated hitter: The A's are looking for more production out of this spot, where Cust has primarily been housed the past two seasons -- the most recent bringing just 13 homers. His decline in power could very well dictate a second straight non-tender situation, thus leaving the A's on the hunt for someone that strikes out less and drives in more. If the likes of Dunn and Matsui prove too expensive, the A's could potentially try out Chris Carter's DH abilities.

Power outfielder: Beane and Co. are on a mission to prioritize power this offseason while at the same time holding on to solid defense. With that notion in mind, Oakland's infield is essentially set for next year. The outfield, though, is not. The club has several candidates to fill these slots but none -- specifically in right field -- that offers the power needed to sustain a healthy lineup.

2011 PAYROLL

More than $20 million is expected off the books, leaving the club decent wiggle room when shopping for that power. Given internal raises and the large number of players eligible for arbitration, though, Beane likely won't have every penny of that figure at his disposal. Still, the A's are expected to carry a higher payroll than the $50 million with which they entered the 2010 season. An exact number is far from determined, but the club may be nearing the $60 million mark for next season.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.