Oakland faces tough decision on Cust

Oakland faces tough decision on Cust

The A's first decision on five arbitration-eligible players was relatively easy, as they released reliever Santiago Casilla on Thursday morning, enabling them to annex Bobby Cassevah in the Rule 5 Draft.

The next call prior to Saturday night's 8:59 p.m. PT deadline to tender contracts to players on the 40-man roster won't be as simple.

Although the deadline affects all players under a club's control, the focus befalls those eligible for salary arbitration, and Oakland has four more in that category.

Outfielders Rajai Davis and Scott Hairston can expect contract offers because they are currently penciled into manager Bob Geren's starting lineup and last season earned $410,000 and $1.25 million, respectively, making them fair arbitration game.

Same for reliever Michael Wuertz, who emerged as a key bullpen weapon on a $1.1 million pact.

Jack Cust, however, is hardly a no-brainer for GM Billy Beane. Cust's production on a $2.8 million deal -- 25 homers, 70 RBIs -- would make him a difficult arbitration subject.

Add the fact that a left-handed-hitting outfielder with some power is one of the elements for which Beane has been scouring the market, and Cust's status becomes further tenuous.

The 30-year-old Cust presents a classic good news/bad news enigma.

Can the A's cut loose the guy who has led them in home runs in each of the last three seasons, with a total of 84?

Also, by non-tendering Cust, the A's would be losing the fourth of their top six home run hitters of 2009, with Jason Giambi, Adam Kennedy and Matt Holliday already out the door after hitting 11 long balls each. Only Kurt Suzuki (15) and Mark Ellis (10) would remain.

But in seeking more flexibility, can the A's afford a primary DH whose outfield defense is average, and who has led the American League in strikeouts three straight seasons, fanning a total of 546 times since 2007?

And more good news: The strikeouts notwithstanding, Cust has an unexpectedly sharp eye at bat. In the last three seasons, he has nearly as many walks (309) as hits (335), pumping up his on-base percentage.

We'll soon know how all these positive and negatives add up.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.