A's have options as Balfour heads to free agency
Closer likely to get sizable offer elsewhere; Oakland optimistic about retaining Colon
OAKLAND -- The majority of players who joined together to capture Oakland's second straight American League West title are under club control for 2014, leaving the club's offseason to-do list rather minimal.
But there are still major decisions to be made.
The biggest revolves around free-agent closer Grant Balfour, who could easily depart for a team with a larger checkbook, unless the A's come out with their own sizable offer. Oakland has never dedicated much of its payroll to relievers, though, making Balfour's return unlikely.
They're more optimistic about retaining another free agent in Bartolo Colon, who won 18 games for them this year and provided the type of veteran leadership otherwise missing in such a youthful starting staff. Colon's return would be more than welcomed, and the A's are confident that they can lock up the 40-year-old before letting him slip to another club.
It might not be as easy as it sounds, though. For teams like the A's to receive compensation for losing top free agents this year, they must make a qualifying offer of $14.1 million. That's a pricey figure for the low-budget A's, and probably too pricey, though Colon may very well seek a deal in that range.
Outside of their own free agents, the A's may look to add bullpen depth and potentially a right-handed outfielder and middle infielder, possibly by trade, should they strike out in the free-agent market. General manager Billy Beane has been known to surprise in this area, though it's unclear who he may dangle in return for added goods.
Lefty Brett Anderson, who holds an $8 million option, could potentially be a trade chip for the A's, who could also choose to use smaller pieces like Jemile Weeks in a deal.
Free agents: Colon, Balfour
Eligible for arbitration: Jesse Chavez, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Neshek, Jerry Blevins, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Daric Barton, Scott Sizemore, John Jaso
Club options: Coco Crisp ($7.5 million, with a $1 million buyout), Chris Young ($11 million, $1.5 million buyout), Anderson ($8 million, $1.5 million buyout), Kurt Suzuki ($8.5 million, $650,000 buyout)
Non-tender possibilities: Barton, Rodriguez, Neshek, Sizemore
Areas of need
Right-handed bat: The A's are not expected to pick up Young's hefty $11 million option, so an experienced right-handed bat could land on their shopping list. As Young did, his replacement would be looked upon to complement Smith at designated hitter and play the outfield from time to time. If the A's don't find a match, they may decide it's time to take a chance on prospect Michael Choice to fill this void.
Relief help: Oakland's bullpen was one of the best in baseball this year, thanks in large part to Balfour. So should the right-hander depart via free agency, the A's will quickly enter the market for an impact arm to replace him. Don't count on them hiring a proven closer, though. Closing duties, in the event Balfour leaves, will likely go to Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle, leaving the A's to pluck from outside options that will complement them.
Middle infielder: Finally, Lowrie enjoyed a healthy season, and it was the A's who benefited, getting consistent production from the infielder all year. Lowrie is set to return to shortstop, and the A's also have platoon duo Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard expected back at second base, seemingly crowding the middle infield heading into the offseason. But Lowrie can play either position, so if the A's have a chance to upgrade at any one of them, chances are, they go for it.
The A's finished the 2013 season with a payroll just north of $60 million, marking nearly a $10 million increase from 2012. Again, Oakland is expected to raise payroll -- "We should be able to increase payroll where it's needed," Beane said recently -- though it will likely remain under $70 million.