What if you got a new job, even on a very temporary basis, and had virtually nothing to do? That is the situation I find myself in as I fill in as the Athletics' general manager while Billy Beane takes the day off.
Beane has already crossed many items off the to-do list, most notably exercising the club options for 2011 on second baseman Mark Ellis ($6 million) and center fielder Coco Crisp ($5.5 million) while sending third baseman Eric Chavez into retirement by buying out his 2011 option for $3 million.
Furthermore, Beane has whittled the list of arbitration-eligible players down by from 12 to eight by dropping right-hander Boof Bonser, infielder Aki Iwamura, and outfielders Jeremy Hermida and Gabe Gross off the 40-man roster. Beane even made the right decision when pitching coach Curt Young decided to leave for the Red Sox by promoting well-regarded bullpen coach Ron Romanick.
Even better, the pitching staff is so good and so young that I don't need to make any changes or worry about being unable to afford eight-figure contracts on a small-market budget. No reason messing with a staff that gave up the fewest runs in the American League in 2010.
However, there is one pressing issue that faces the A's this offseason and I'm going to make it my objective to fix during my 24 hours. The A's need a big-time power hitter, as their 89 home runs last season were the fewest in the major leagues and their average of 4.09 runs per game was just 11th in the AL and 23rd in the major leagues.
The most logical place to add the power bat is either right field or designated hitter. Catcher Kurt Suzuki certainly isn't going anywhere, and I'd keep the infield intact with first baseman Daric Barton, Ellis, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, and shortstop Cliff Pennington. Crisp fills the leadoff and center-field holes just fine when he is healthy, and the time has come for rookie Chris Carter to be the starting left fielder, as he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.
Ryan Sweeney spent the majority of last season as the right fielder and hit only one home run in 331 plate appearances before undergoing knee surgery. Designated hitter Jack Cust's home run total dropped to 13 last year, and even his .395 on-base percentage can't mask the decline in power, as he had averaged 28 homers over the previous three seasons.
Considering right-hander Ben Sheets' $10 million is off the books now that he is a free agent—and he's not coming back on my watch—I have some money to play with on the free-agent market. Optimally, I'd rather sign a free agent than trade from my pitching depth.
The DH I would target is a player who, in the fickle eyes of many media members, went from Comeback Player of the Year candidate to washed up in the past week. That would be Vladimir Guerrero, who became a free agent Wednesday when the Rangers declined the mutual option in his contract. While Guerrero had an awful World Series by going 1-for-14 with five strikeouts, it shouldn't mask that he had a .300/.345/.495 slash line, 29 home runs, and a .288 TAv in 643 plate appearances during the regular season while showing he can stay healthy for a full season if used as a DH.
Perhaps Guerrero's stock fell enough in the span of five bad games that I could get him for less than the $5.5 million he made this season. I doubt it, though, which is why I'd be willing to offer a one-year, $8 million contract with a vesting option for 2012. At 35, Guerrero still has something left in his bat, which is why I'd go to $10 million if his side really pressed the issue.
My Plan B at DH would be Hideki Matsui, who isn't quite the player he used to be with the Yankees but is still a productive hitter at 36. He was solid for the Angels this year, hitting .294/.361/.459 with 21 homers and a .294 TAv in 554 plate appearances. If Guerrero won't take my money, I'd start the bidding at $6 million for Matsui and give up to $8 million, but I won't include an option.
As far as right field is concerned, I would try to work out something with Conor Jackson, who is arbitration-eligible and coming off two awful years, the first of which was ruined by a case of Valley Fever. Jackson did show some signs of improvement after the Athletics acquired him from the Diamondbacks last season, as he posted a .267 TAv in 69 plate appearances before suffering a hamstring injury.
While I wouldn't offer the 28-year-old Jackson arbitration as the most he can be cut is 20 percent from his $3.1 million salary, I would offer him the type of contract that would be enticing to someone looking to rebuild his value. I'd guarantee him $1.25 million for 2011, which he would have a hard time getting on the open market, with performance bonuses worth $3.5 million and a $5 million club option for 2012 with a small buyout of $25,000. I'd be rolling the dice without taking on too much risk, and Jackson could benefit to the tune of $10 million if he returns to his previous level of play.
If I get Guerrero or Matsui to come to Oakland and Jackson to agree to the creative contract, perhaps they would write a book or make a movie about me. It would have to be a short story, though, since my career would only span 24 hours.
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