OAKLAND -- The A's have until 9 p.m. PT on Monday to offer their free agents salary arbitration, and it's a virtual lock that the deadline will pass without offers being extended to three of the four. There's simply no room for designated hitter Frank Thomas in the wake of last month's trade that brought outfielder Matt Holliday to Oakland, which plans to make Jack Cust its full-time DH, and the team's commitment to developing its young talent rules out another season in green and gold for outfielder Emil Brown and right-handed reliever Keith Foulke. That leaves lefty reliever Alan Embree as the only A's free agent on whom the door to a possible return hasn't completely closed, but Embree told MLB.com on Monday morning that he'd be "really surprised" if Oakland offered him arbitration.
"If I was to guess, I don't know; I'd probably have to flip a coin," he said. "My agent has spoken to them a couple of times since the season ended, and I've learned to never say never in this game, but for [a number of] reasons, I don't see it happening. "Based on last year, I just don't think they want me with the team, the way they're going with their young guys in the bullpen there." A's assistant general manager David Forst said on Monday afternoon that the club hasn't made a decision on Embree, but it should be noted that it's not unprecedented for a player like Embree -- who has plenty of employment options and appears poised to move on -- to agree beforehand to decline an offer of arbitration, allowing his former team to pick up the extra Draft pick. "I have nothing bad to say about the A's," Embree said. "I have no problem with [GM] Billy [Beane] whatsoever." Embree, who turns 39 in January, signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the A's before the 2007 season to serve as their primary lefty setup man, and he was one of the rocks of the Oakland bullpen in his first year with the club. He posted a 3.97 ERA in 68 games and racked up a career-high 17 saves while then-closer Huston Street was sidelined. Embree made 70 appearances in 2008 while making about $3.1 million, but his role changed dramatically in the second half of the season as the A's fell out of playoff contention and started taking long looks at a number of rookie relievers, including projected 2009 mainstays Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine. After Embree closed out the season with a 4.96 ERA, Oakland declined its $3 million option on him for 2009, and while the A's would receive a compensatory draft pick should Embree -- a Type B free agent -- decline an offer for arbitration and sign elsewhere, there is risk involved in making such an offer. If Embree were to accept, he'd be assured of a contract for 2009. The club and player would begin negotiations, but if a deal isn't struck, an arbitration panel would choose between a one-year rate proposed by the A's and a one-year rate proposed by Embree's representatives. Regardless of which salary the panel chose, the amount could not be less than his 2008 rate.
In other words, were Embree to return, it would be for more money than the option the team already has declined."I know my agent has had some discussions with [Oakland], but it wouldn't make a lot of sense for them when you look at it that way," said Embree, who recently returned from a family vacation to Hawaii and was on a hunting trip with A's catcher Rob Bowen prior to that. "I honestly haven't been paying much attention to any of this, because I've been gone the past 10 days. I didn't even know about this deadline until just now." Thomas also is a Type B free agent, according to the annual rankings of Major League players by Elias Sports Bureau, but the risk of him accepting an offer of arbitration is far greater than the risk of Embree accepting. The Big Hurt, who was signed after being released by the Blue Jays in May and spent three months on Oakland's disabled list, repeatedly said he would love to return to the A's, for whom he batted .263 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 55 games. While teams haven't exactly been lining up to speak with Thomas about a 2009 contract, Embree said his agent had heard from 10 teams since the period of open free agency started last month. "There's a lot of interest," said Embree, "so it's nice to know that I'm not going to be out there looking for a job." Embree, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., confirmed that the Mariners are among the teams who have called and noted that the team's recent hiring of former A's bench coach Don Wakamatsu makes Seattle an attractive option for what he suggested would be his 16th and final season in the big leagues. "It does make it more appealing," Embree said of Wakamatsu's presence in the Emerald City. "The combination of being close to home and having the relationship I had with Wak last season is definitely a good one for me." Brown, who batted .244 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs in 2008, and Foulke, who posted a 4.06 ERA in 31 games, are unranked free agents.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.