Oakland A's: A Very Early Look at Potential 2014 Free-Agent Targets
You may think it's too early to check out potential Oakland Athletics free-agent signees for the 2014 season, but that means you haven't seen how extensive the list of players who could possibly be gone is, even considering arbitration.
Even considering that many of the A's whose contracts end before next year were in a similar situation last season—since they inked only one-year deals—it's a scary group to consider for Oakland fans.
Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Josh Reddick, John Jaso, Scott Sizemore, Nate Freiman.
And that's just the position players.
There's also Grant Balfour, Bartolo Colon, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Dan Straily, Pat Neshek, Jerry Blevins.
Pretty much the entire team, beside Yoenis Cespedes. Even Coco Crisp, Brett Anderson and Chris Young will be club options.
So clearly the A's will be in the market for some free agents this coming winter. Anywhere from all to few of the previously mentioned A's could stay with the team. But just in case, here's a handful of potential choices—albeit entirely speculative—which Billy Beane could look into signing.
Shortstop Stephen Drew
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
This may be out of a dream, but Stephen Drew could be back in O.co Coliseum next season.
After helping spark the Oakland Athletics last year, Drew signed a bigger contract with the Red Sox than Billy Beane was willing to match.
However, the shortstop is performing below his career averages in the slash line (.213/.300/.371 compared with .262/.327/.430 in his first seven years).
Such an underwhelming showing from Drew could make it easy for Boston to see him leave town and put his asking price back where Beane is comfortable.
Of course, if Jed Lowrie sticks around, this might be a bit more dicey—though each could try out second base. But Lowrie might well exit O.co, leaving room for fan favorite Drew.
Outfielder Tony Gywnn Jr.
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
To shore up an outfield that may go from boom to bust, the Oakland Athletics should look into signing Tony Gwynn Jr.
Admittedly, the kid's pedigree is enticing. As is his current small contract (less than $1 million per year), considering Billy Beane's budget.
The Los Angeles Dodgers surely will be intrigued by bigger, badder free-agent names than The Little Gwynn, giving fellow California team Oakland a shot at the outfielder.
Gwynn Jr. has spent 2013 in the minors, soon to be called up to the majors. Regardless of how he performs this season, he would undoubtedly improve on his .232 batting average in 103 games last season with the help of stellar A's batting coach Chili Davis.
The outfielder's age could be a factor, but it's not like Beane shies away from a player because he won't be serviceable in three years.
Starting Pitcher Ted Lilly
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Another Dodgers transplant could be Ted Lilly.
If Bartolo Colon were to head to greener (money-wise) pastures after this season, Lilly could come in and provide similar veteran leadership on the Oakland Athletics pitching staff.
Lilly's performance this year looks scary, only starting five games so far but giving up 13 earned runs. But as he showed in his first season in Los Angeles, Lilly has potential to pick back up where he left off as a younger pitcher.
It doesn't hurt that the left-hander has been in Oakland before. He'd get plenty more attention with the A's than on the high-end Dodgers staff, which could help bring him back to his 2011 level.
This certainly isn't a surefire full-year solution if the A's were to lose Colon. But his cost will be much lower than this year, and he may well surprise people.
First Baseman James Loney
J. Meric/Getty Images
The youngest potential free-agent pickup on this list is James Loney. The first baseman is still in his prime years at age 29 and has played well this year on a smaller contract than he'd been used to before.
The Dodgers once paid him in the $3-5 million per year range, but he signed with the Rays this year for just $2 million. As such, he's the most cost-effective free agent at a position that may be abandoned by Brandon Moss after this season.
Looney's dip in payment comes at a time when he is hitting above his career slash line and playing at his highest Wins Above Replacement (1.3) in three years.
Defensively, he's the 13th-best active first baseman, according to Baseball-Reference.
All of this adds up to a decent replacement for Moss and Freiman if the two leave Oakland.
Outfielder Andres Torres
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
The Bay Bridge isn't that far for Andres Torres to drive from his current home to Oakland.
The Giants outfielder is greatly underappreciated in San Francisco, partly because he's the fourth outfielder behind Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence and Gregor Blanco.
Depending on who sticks around next season, the A's could well use Torres as a starting left fielder.
Torres has improved his batting average each season since his drop-off from 2010, and that trend would continue with Oakland batting coach Chili Davis.
Perhaps most importantly, Torres would likely come at a decent cost. His usual $2 million range is vastly better than the A's club option on Chris Young ($11 million) if Billy Beane decides the latter can't get back to his previous production.