Next year's core

By Jason Wojciechowski on October 13, 2013 at 4:31 PM

Over at, Jane Lee has a story about the nucleus of the A's being unlikely to change. In particular, Billy Beane is hopeful that Bartolo Colon will return and Colon himself seems amenable.

By contrast, Grant Balfour looks committed to testing the free-agent waters. This is a position that I hope A's fans can respect and even applaud—Balfour turns 36 in a few months and has made $17.7 million in his career. This is his chance to maybe double that, and it's almost certainly his last chance to do so. He could be that reliever who pitches into his 40s, but even if he does, he'll surely go year-to-year to get there. In any event, the point is that I'll wish Balfour well on the market this winter regardless of where he winds up. (Yes, even if it's in Anaheim.)

It's the rare team that returns an entire bullpen, utility infielder, backup catcher, and so forth, but without, for now, getting into the questions of who might be brought in from outside the organization to fill certain holes on the A's, let's roll through the positions to look at just how stable 2014's roster looks like it could be. (I'm putting aside as well the the possibilities of Beane Trades (TM)—would it shock me if Brett Anderson were moved? No. Is it worth anything at all trying to predict what the A's would get back and how that might impact the roster? No.) So!

Catcher: Derek Norris will return at minimum salary. John Jaso will be eligible for his second year of arbitration, though having played just 70 games, he won't get much of a raise over his $1.8M 2013 salary. The one interesting possibility here is that the A's could non-tender Seth Smith, let him sign where he will, and install Jaso as the permanent DH against righties. Norris then could be paired with a lefty-hitting catcher in a platoon or could be the full-time catcher with a more traditional backup. Query whether Kurt Suzuki might return to the A's after they decline his option. I can imagine him getting better offers elsewhere, though.

I don't have any particular confidence in Stephen Vogt behind the plate. Or at the bat, for that matter. He was fine, but if he's back, I'd rather it not be in a strict platoon—a Vogt/Norris split is fine if Norris gets 80 percent of the starts, with all of Vogt's coming against righty starters.

First base: Brandon Moss is apparently going to be a second-year arbitration player. He bashed the ball again in 2013, so he'll be due for a raise, but not so much that he's priced out of the A's range, especially since he's not strictly a first baseman but can cover an outfield corner in case of injury. Nate Freiman's spot is probably up for grabs—lefty-masher first basemen shouldn't be hard to find, and now that Freiman survived his entire Rule 5 season in Oakland, the A's will be free to option him to Sacramento at will.

Second base: Eric Sogard is better than a lot of people realize and should not yet be arbitration-eligible. Even if the A's wound up with a better option as a starting second baseman, Sogard can slide down into the utility role very easily. Alberto Callaspo is a nice bat with a bad glove who is probably worth the $5M he'll be paid, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him traded to a team that wants to install him as their starting third baseman, a spot that is obviously not open in Oakland. It would be a lot of money to pay a platoon second baseman who can't defend.

Especially since Scott Sizemore is at least theoretically coming back. I don't really know his service-time situation with all the time spent on the 60-day disabled list, but he's at best arbitration-eligible, and having not played in two years, he can't ask for much. He could be a nice platoon option at second.

Shortstop: Jed Lowrie will be in his last year of arbitration, and he could get a nice raise after his first-ever healthy season, one that saw him hit like he was supposed to (really well), defend like he was supposed to (pretty poorly), and overall be an excellent contributor, if something short of star-caliber play. That's worth whatever he'll get paid in arbitration.

One even wonders, given the second-base situation, whether the A's might explore a multi-year deal with Lowrie with the idea of moving him to second base in 2015 to make room for Addison Russell.

Third base: I don't think Josh Donaldson is even eligible for arbitration yet.

Outfield: Billy Beane all but guaranteed that Coco Crisp will have his team option exercised. Yoenis Cespedes is still under contract for two more years. Josh Reddick is eligible for arbitration for the first time.

Chris Young will not be back after the A's decline his option unless he accepts $750,000 because he loves the Oakland school system. Michael Choice could very well fill his spot on the roster, starting at DH and the outfield corners against left-handed pitching and maybe covering center if/when Crisp is hurt. (It will be interesting to see what the A's do in center in Crisp's absence, actually, assuming they don't add a true center fielder to the roster—will they prefer Cespedes, Reddick, or Choice?)

Designated hitter: Seth Smith is, on the one hand, not yet a free agent. He is, on the other hand, a third-year arbitration guy and one who might not be worth that money to the A's. I could see a non-tender that leaves the DH spot to John Jaso, as mentioned above. I could, on the other hand, see him returning to the same role he's filled the last two years. The Smith decision is probably the least obvious one on the whole roster.

Starting pitcher: Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, and Tom Milone should all be back. Beane wants to re-sign Bartolo Colon, and if he's successful in that, it will set up a fifth-starter competition between Straily, Griffin, Milone, and whoever else gets dragged into camp to do things like compete for the fifth starter spot. That depth is important with Anderson being Anderson, with Colon being 41, with Gray and Parker being young and small.

Relief pitcher: Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Dan Otero are locks. Jerry Blevins is another second-year arbitration player and could be worth a few million bucks. He could be signed and play all year in Oakland. He could be traded. He could be non-tendered. He could be signed and then traded. He could be signed and then designated for assignment. Relievers are like that, and the A's do have Pedro Figueroa still kicking around. And there's always Jeremy Barfield.

Fernando Rodriguez should compete for a spot, at least by midyear, but hopefully earlier. Maybe Andrew Carignan comes back.

So yeah, that's not a lot of room!