Less than one year after the A' chose to non-tender the contract of Jack Cust, who was ultimately brought back to Oakland in January as a free agent, club officials are again facing the same decision on the slugger -- along with nine others.
Cust is one of 10 arbitration-eligible players on the A's 40-man roster whom Oakland must decide whether to tender contracts prior to Thursday's 8:59 p.m. PT deadline. Although the deadline affects all players under a club's control, the focus befalls those eligible for salary arbitration. Most of Oakland's choices will be rather easy ones. The one on Cust, however, is murky.
Same goes for incumbent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and newcomer Edwin Encarnacion, who was claimed off waivers from Toronto on Nov. 12. Neither appears guaranteed a roster spot in Oakland next year, especially given the club's recent push at high-profile free agent Adrian Beltre. Thus, one could very well be let loose Thursday, though both could be kept to lend the A's trade flexibility.
Cust, however, sits at the top of the team's non-tender candidates list next to outfielder Travis Buck. Cust is coming off a roller-coaster year in which he started the season in Triple-A. Eventually brought back to Oakland in May, Cust managed to compile his best average (.271) since joining the A's in 2007 but saw his home run total (13) drop dramatically and his already prodigious strikeout totals continued while earning a $2.65 million salary.
That's a low price for potential power, though, and the A's need all they can get. Much of Cust's status will presumably depend on how Oakland feels by day's end Thursday about filling the DH role through outside means. On Tuesday, club officials met with Lance Berkman, who is thought to be looking for a one- or two-year deal that would likely represent twice the amount the A's would spend on Cust. Furthermore, Hideki Matsui has also been linked to the A's.
Buck, meanwhile, endured another injury-plagued season in 2010 and wasn't offered much of a shot in Oakland when healthy. Already expected to be non-tendered months ago, his Super Two status has all but ensured the inevitable despite once being tagged as one of the franchise's top prospects.
Reliever Brad Ziegler also earned himself Super Two status this year, but he's more likely to be retained. The righty, who garnered a 3.26 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 60 2/3 innings this season, made $410,000 in 2010 and should not be demanding an especially hefty raise.
Fellow hurlers Craig Breslow, Dallas Braden and Joey Devine, along with outfielders Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney, represent the club's other arbitration-eligible players, and all are expected to be tendered contracts. Jackson's future with Oakland was rather unclear at season's end, but Rajai Davis' trade to Toronto now has him pegged as the team's fourth outfielder next year.
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.