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Signing Josh Willingham to Long-Term Deal Should Be Oakland A's No. 1 Priority

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Josh Willingham #16 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates with Ryan Sweeney #15 after hitting a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first inning during an MLB baseball game at O.co Coliseum on September 12, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Brandon McClintockCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2011

It certainly won’t be the first task on the Oakland Athletics' to-do list this offseason; that item will be the removal of the “interim” label in front of Bob Melvin’s manager title. It may not even be the second task on the to-do list thanks to the GM candidacy rumors surrounding Billy Beane and the Chicago Cubs; the A’s may need to officially promote David Forst to the top front-office position.

Both moves would simply be formalities, though. They are decisions that are already assumed and would not require much prioritizing in terms of strategy or effort from the higher-ups in the Athletics organization and ownership.

So while it may fall to the third item on the to-do list this winter, the No. 1 priority absolutely needs to be the signing of Josh Willingham to a multi-year extension to stay in Oakland for the next two to three seasons.

Following his trade to the Athletics last offseason from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Henry Rodriguez, Willingham expressed his interest in signing an extension to stay in Oakland, a sentiment he has repeated during the regular season.

It’s understandable that the A’s would wait to see how Willingham would respond to playing in the American League following seven seasons in the National League East. The experiment to bring another National League slugger, Matt Holliday, to the AL West proved to be a failure in terms of production (still holding out hope that Michael Taylor will ultimately swing it back into the “good decision” category).

As the regular season winds down, though, Willingham represents the A’s biggest offensive threat and most productive player in terms of offensive contributions since Frank Thomas wore the green and gold in 2006.

A quick look at his career stats by year shows that Willingham has not struggled in terms of his power numbers with the change in league, or as a result of spending his 81 home games in the pitching-friendly O.co Coliseum.

25 FLA 12 29 25 2 5 0 0 1 1 .200 .310 .320 .630
26 FLA 16 28 23 3 7 1 0 0 4 .304 .407 .348 .755
27 FLA 142 573 502 62 139 28 2 26 74 .277 .356 .496 .852
28 FLA 144 604 521 75 138 32 4 21 89 .265 .364 .463 .827
29 FLA 102 416 351 54 89 21 5 15 51 .254 .364 .470 .834
30 WSN 133 502 427 70 111 29 0 24 61 .260 .367 .496 .863
31 WSN 114 450 370 54 99 19 2 16 56 .268 .389 .459 .848
32 OAK 120 500 434 61 107 24 0 24 84 .247 .330 .468 .798
8 Seasons 783 3102 2653 381 695 154 13 127 420 .262 .361 .473 .834
162 Game Avg. 162 642 549 79 144 32 3 26 87 .262 .361 .473 .834

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2011.

It is worth noting that Willingham has homered and driven in three runs as I write this article, bringing his season totals to 25 homers and 87 RBI (so far).

Since the All-Star break, Willingham has actually improved his play, suggesting that he may be making further adjustments as he sees the league for a second run through the teams and pitchers he is facing.

1st Half 68 63 273 245 28 59 12 0 11 44 .241 .311 .424 .736
2nd Half 52 51 227 189 33 48 12 0 13 40 .254 .352 .524 .876

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2011.

Once again, these stats do not represent the homer and three RBI he has in tonight’s game or any additional production that may come as I write this.

To further make these statistics impressive is the consideration that he has played much of the second half on a tender Achilles heel, yet his production has still increased during the second half.

As should already be fairly obvious, Willingham has been a main and consistent contributor to the A’s resurgent second-half offense. His biggest contributions have come in clutch situations, though, where the A’s have struggled since the Big Hurt left for Toronto following his MVP-worthy season (he finished fourth in voting).

RISP 88 152 123 38 8 9 62 .309 .388 .593 .982
Men On 111 275 229 60 13 14 74 .262 .356 .502 .859
on 1st, lt 2 out 75 105 87 25 8 3 29 .287 .362 .483 .845
on 3rd, lt 2 out 27 31 21 9 2 1 24 .429 .355 .667 1.022
on 3rd, 2 out 32 41 35 8 3 1 13 .229 .341 .400 .741

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2011.

He has repeatedly come through for the A’s and helped put runs on the scoreboard since joining the team at the beginning of the season.

Concerns over his age (33 to begin next season) or ability to continue playing the outfield should not give Oakland hesitation to sign him to a two- to three-year extension in the $8 million to $10 million per season range. Willingham still has at least that many seasons of capable outfield play left in him, and if he starts to become a liability in the field, the A’s can always use him as the DH to keep his bat in the lineup.

Allowing Willingham to reach free agency before discussing a contract extension is a risky proposition, yet one the A’s seem set on allowing. The team policy is not to negotiate contracts until the offseason.

Willingham will be one of the top right-handed bats available not named Albert Pujols this winter. For the more cost-conscious teams, he would be a nice acquisition.

No team needs him more than Oakland, though, and he has thrived as an Athletic. Following the conclusion of the World Series the A’s will have only five days of exclusive negotiating time with Josh and his agent before he is free to negotiate with the other 29 clubs. Hopefully the feeling that a 2012 (and beyond) reunion can be reached between the two clubs is a shared feeling by the A’s front office and ownership.

A long-term deal with a raise in salary is deserved and certainly needs to occupy the No. 1 role on the A’s offseason priority list before moving on to other areas needing attention. They’ll have five days to get it done before the price potentially increases.

I think you know my vote regarding Willingham in 2012.

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