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Free-agent spending on hold for Beane, A's

Free-agent spending on hold for Beane, A's

Free-agent spending on hold for Beane, A's
OAKLAND -- Two offseasons have passed without a stadium decision for the A's, who are in danger of watching a third unfold in the coming months.

It's a storyline all too familiar for Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who believes he will have his answer soon.

But until that time comes, Beane and Co. are stuck in waiting mode, and the unknown could equate to big ramifications for the 2012 roster, as any spending and subsequent pursuit of free agents -- including their own -- are on hold until signs of a resolution on the stadium issue are in sight.

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By delaying such decisions on free agents, the A's run the risk of losing the likes of Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp, along with any shot at any other premium free agents available on the open market.

The club's best chance at retaining Willingham, who led the team in home runs and RBIs, is during the five-day window following the World Series when teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents.

Once that window closes, at which point the A's will probably still be left without a stadium issue, Willingham will hit the open market and seek a deal likely greater than the one the A's would be able to offer him.

Crisp might very well be in the same boat, and if both don't return, outfielders will represent the team's most pressing need, as David DeJesus also isn't expected back. The A's, then, might opt to take the young route with a few familiar faces, including Michael Taylor and Jai Miller.

In the event a stadium is approved for the A's, the team would immediately begin pouring money into player development and scouting in order to build a contending team that would be ready to christen its new home in three or four years.

For now, though, spending isn't much of an option for the A's, who will simply be forced to continue playing the waiting game despite hopes of improving upon a disappointing 2011 season that brought about a meek offensive showing.

CONTRACT ISSUES

Free agents: Coco Crisp, OF; David DeJesus, OF; Rich Harden, RHP; Hideki Matsui, DH; Josh Willingham, OF

Eligible for arbitration: Andrew Bailey, RHP; Daric Barton, IF; Dallas Braden, LHP; Craig Breslow, LHP; Joey Devine, RHP; Gio Gonzalez, LHP; Brandon McCarthy, RHP; Landon Powell, C; Adam Rosales, IF/OF; Ryan Sweeney, OF

Club options: Michael Wuertz, RHP, $3.25 million (with $250,000 buyout, declined)

Non-tender possibilities: Powell, Rosales

AREAS OF NEED

Outfield: With the A's potentially losing all three of their starting outfielders, this is perhaps the biggest area of need. But without the stability to spend aggressively because of the stadium situation, or the club's ability to attract big-name free agents, the A's may have to turn to the outfield trade market, as they did last winter. Don't be surprised, though, if they choose to employ from within.

Third base: Though the jury is still out on Scott Sizemore, the A's seem to like his potential as an everyday third baseman, particularly with continued improvements made on defense. The front-office folks have been high on him for years, and it appears top third-base prospect Stephen Parker could still be a year away from being Major League ready. Given the lack of depth, this could be a definite area for upgrade this offseason.

Designated hitter: This remains a long-term area of concern for an A's team that again ranked near the bottom in the Majors in homers. There's a strong possibility of a Matsui return, especially with manager Bob Melvin -- perhaps his biggest supporter -- in the fold. But should the Japanese veteran depart, the A's will be left with a major hole to fill. Their hope was that Chris Carter would be ready to grab hold of the job by now, but a sluggish start to his big league career hasn't helped that cause. If the club is forced to pluck from the free-agent pool, options are expected to be limited to either the elderly -- think Jason Giambi -- or the expensive -- think David Ortiz.

2012 payroll: The A's carried around a $65 million payroll in 2011, and it's not yet known how much that figure will move going forward, given the fact that the stadium situation has temporarily stalled. Just five players are already under contract for 2012, their total salaries accounting for less than $22 million. That same number, perhaps one of even lesser value, is likely to account for arbitration-eligible players, seemingly giving the club wiggle room if allowed to spend.

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.

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