Grant Balfour and Kurt Suzuki may be giving their final high fives to Oakland teammates.
Just as they do every offseason, the Oakland Athletics must make decisions on key free agents, arbitration-eligible players and potential trades. Yet this year, the stakes are very high.
The A's are coming off a repeat AL West championship. Unfortunately, they are coming off a repeat ALDS Game 5 loss. The core of the team—Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, the young pitchers in the starting rotation—are all returning. For others, such as Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, it's just a matter of how much they'll earn.
But after two years of coming so close to an ALCS, fans should expect more. Heck, management should now expect more too. In 2014, the goal must be to go further than the ALDS. It may even be World Series or bust. Hence, the decisions made this offseason are crucial.
Here is a look at what general manager Billy Beane has to look forward to. I don't envy him.
How much will Lowrie cost the A's in 2014?
To be arbitration eligible means the player has between three and six years of big league experience. In the offseason, the player and team will meet to determine salary. If the two parties cannot reach a mutual agreement, the discussion will go to a third-party panel.
The A's have a slew of players who are arbitration eligible. Here is the list of guys Oakland will have to decide whether to offer a contract to or head to arbitration with:
The A's likely will lock up Moss, Blevins and Reddick up prior to arbitration. They're the marquee trio of the bunch; they're everyday players and are the most likely to be in the long-term plans.
Nearly everyone else on the list can probably be signed for relatively cheap.
The one question mark might be Lowrie. With guys like Addison Russell—younger and projected to be more talented—in the organization, Lowrie doesn't figure to be around too much longer. So offering him a longer contract doesn't make much sense. But knowing he's here for a short duration, Lowrie may want to capitalize and squeeze as large of a contract as possible out of the A's.
Anderson has shown glimpses of talent, but has been injured more often than not.
The Decision: Pay an $8 million club option or a $1.5 million buyout.
Brett Anderson has plenty of potential, when he's healthy. So much so that $8 million would be a given, possibly even a bargain.
Take 2010 for example. The then-22-year-old pitched in 19 games, going 7-6 while maintaining a 2.80 ERA. Even last year, though he was injured the majority of the season, he went 4-2 in six starts with a 2.57 ERA.
But therein lies the problem.
From 2009 to 2010, the amount of games he remained healthy for dwindled from 30 to 19, then 13 in 2011 and only six in 2012. In 2013, he made it 16 games total, but he landed on the disabled list once again this year.
A one-year deal for as much as $5 million would be worth the risk. But $8 million is just too much. Unless of course the A's intend to sign and trade Anderson.
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, that exact scenario may occur:
It's possible that the A's will pick up Anderson's option and then deal him; there are numerous interested teams, particularly Toronto, which has pursued the A's Opening Day starter for two years and which had a scout following him again at the end of this season.
It does make some sense. If the A's buy him out and he rebounds, another team gets the reward. If the A's pick up the option then trade him and he does well, well then at least Oakland gets something out of it.
Balfour picked a great time to have a career year.
The Decision: Re-sign Grant Balfour.
Balfour's yearly salary increased from $3.75 million in 2011 to $4 million and $4.5 million the last two seasons. In that span he's been incredibly consistent.
His batters faced and strikeout numbers are both up. Yet his ERA and home runs allowed are still about the same. There's just one big difference.
A consistent bullpen arm is one thing. A dominant, All-Star closer is worth so much more. Consider that a similar pitcher in age and time as a closer, Rafael Soriano, is currently making $11 million a year.
Balfour is about to have himself a huge payday—one the A's probably will pass on.
As difficult as it would be for the A's to let Balfour walk, it seems almost certain that will happen. This is an organization that has generally been reluctant to spend big money on relievers, who often prove to be volatile. Oakland also has never bought into the idea of employing a proven closer. Rather, the A's create their own, as they did with Balfour last year, Andrew Bailey before that and several others, including Huston Street, in previous seasons. They even did it with Cook for some time last year and know he's an option to close next season, should Balfour depart.
As great as Balfour is, double-digit millions could be used more effectively elsewhere. This is especially true being as though Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are nearly as talented, younger and cheaper. Even Dan Otero should garner some kind of attention in 2014.
Will Bartolo Colon return for a 17th season?
The Decision: Re-sign Bartolo Colon.
Colon made $3 million in 2013. He won 18 games, kept his ERA down to 2.65 and had a 4.03 K/BB ratio on his way to an All-Star appearance.
And he did it at 40 years old!
It seemed from observation that Colon slowed down in the second half. He didn't. Not even close. Sure, he walked more per nine and gave up more home runs per nine in the second half. But he struck out more per nine too. His ERA also lowered.
The moral of the story? Colon pitched like a $10 million pitcher.
Now he's a free agent. With his stats, he could command a lofty price tag, perhaps a number as high as $16 million. However, it's going to be tough to find a suitor at that price based on his age. Even still, he might be able to wrangle a one-year, $8.5 million deal. It could be as high as $11 million.
The question is, will the A's bank on Colon handing in a repeat performance?
According to Slusser, general manager Billy Beane expressed his desire to at least try to re-sign Colon.
Crisp has "returned" once already. Will he make it a repeat?
The Decision: Pay a $7.5 million option or a $1 million buyout.
Worth it. Worth it, worth it, worth it.
Any time you can pay a veteran player with speed who can hit in the leadoff position $7.5 million for a year, you do it.
He consistently finishes with around 120-140 hits a year. In 2013, he scored nearly 100 runs. This last season he hit a career-high 22 home runs. It's doubtful he can match that number, but it shows he may just have the most pop of all the leadoff hitters. Throw in the fact that he walked almost as many times as he struck out in 2013, and Crisp is easily worth more than $7.5 million.
Luckily, the A's see it too. Slusser has the news once again via Twitter: "Beane says Crisp's option will be picked up."
Suzuki has had two stints with the A's already, but a third may be unlikely.
The Decision: Pay an $8.5 million option or a $650,000 buyout.
This move seems to be another no-brainer. Nothing against Suzuki, but with two catchers on the roster already (not even counting John Jaso), both of whom are younger, cheaper and nearly as talented, it doesn't make a lot of sense to pay Suzuki $8.5 million. Especially when the buyout is so low.
The pro with Suzuki is his talent behind the dish with the young pitchers. On the other hand, the best way for Derek Norris to build that rapport with the pitchers is to catch them more often and learn their tendencies.
Besides, Suzuki may still wish to find a starting role. He won't get one in Oakland.
Slusser confirms Suzuki is not likely to be picked up.
Chris Young didn't do a whole lot in 2013.
The Decision: Pay an $11 million option or buy him out for $1.5 million.
Raise your hand if you would pay a guy $11 million to hit .200 and be a utility outfielder. I'll wait.
I don't blame you.
No offense to Young either. Financially it just doesn't make sense. If he was a starter with massive potential but just had a down year, then maybe (See Brett Anderson's case). But he was injured in 2012 and reduced to being the fourth outfielder in 2013. His career average after eight seasons is .235. Furthermore, prospect Michael Choice is waiting in the wings.
John Hickey of San Jose Mercury News confirmed "Young, due $11 million, is almost certainly gone."
It'd be quite nostalgic to see Ellis back in green and gold.
The Decision: Upgrade certain positions through the free-agent market.
There was plenty of speculation around the 2013 trade deadline surrounding upgrades at catcher and second base. With much of the starting roster set to return, that idea may not have changed.
Brian McCann is the marquee catcher. But the chances of an A's-McCann marriage are very slim. He will likely garner the attention of big-market teams.
Oakland could kick the tires on Carlos Ruiz (again), A.J. Pierzynski or Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The first two are obvious short-term solutions. Derek Norris has potential, and those two would somewhat hinder that. Saltalamacchia would be a pretty good option, but the catchers market isn't great so even he could gain a ton of interest.
Second base, though, is a spot that could be filled with a veteran for a year or two.
There aren't many prospects in the farm close to being ready to take over second. Neither Eric Sogard nor Alberto Callaspo overwhelm you with talent.
The only real issue is that Callaspo makes $4.88 million. Oakland won't spend $6-8 million on a starter like Omar Infante or Mark Ellis and then push a near-$5 million player to the bench. After all, it's easier to platoon two guys who make a combined $6 million rather than platoon two who make a combined $11 million or more.
Then there's pitching.
Without Brett Anderson or Bartolo Colon (hypothetically), there's an opening in the rotation. The A's seem to sign veteran pitchers for cheap (Ben Sheets, Brandon McCarthy, Colon) almost on a yearly basis. And without Grant Balfour, there'll be a void in the bullpen that could be filled through free agency.
Matt Wieters might be an outstanding move.
The Decision: Upgrade through the trade market.
In the 2012-13 offseason, the A's traded Cliff Pennington for Chris Young, A.J. Cole for John Jaso and Chris Carter in a package for Jed Lowrie.
The year before, Billy Beane made a splash by trading Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow for Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker and Collin Cowgill. He also sent Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock. And then there was a package involving Andrew Bailey that landed Josh Reddick and prospects too.
The A's also made a swap for Seth Smith in 2012.
In the 2010-11 offseason, Beane acquired David DeJesus and Josh Willingham. The year prior it was Kevin Kouzmanoff, Eric Sogard, Michael Taylor and Adam Rosales.
I could go on, but the point is, Beane makes decent-sized moves every offseason. SBNation.com has put together a nice list of potential names on the trade block. It's anyone's guess what the A's and Beane will do, though. Beane likes to play his cards close to his vest at all times.
But it shouldn't really surprise anyone if Beane swung yet another stunning deal, say for a guy like Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, shown above.