Oakland's deal for jack-of-all-trades hitter Jake Fox in advance of the winter meetings probably wasn't good news for another Jack — slugging designated hitter Jack Cust.
If the A's do nothing else in Indianapolis this week, they will be making a decision on Cust, their leading home run hitter the past three seasons. Most signs point to their not tendering an arbitration offer to Cust before Saturday's deadline, meaning the A's wouldn't get draft compensation if he signed elsewhere.
Cust, who'll turn 31 on Jan. 16, made $2.8 million in his first arbitration year last season and figures to command between $4-5 million in 2010, even though his production numbers slipped slightly in 2009 (27 homers, 70 RBI, 185 strikeouts). While it might seem strange the power-starved A's would part with Cust, they have myriad options that might not require such a sizable investment.
What's more, the A's still have a shot at trading Cust this week instead of nontendering him. The New York Mets and Seattle Mariners reportedly might be interested.
A's general manager Billy Beane wouldn't tip his hand on Cust last week.
"We've still got some time to decide, and that's certainly a matter of in-house conversation right now," Beane said. "The decision has yet to be made on Jack, and no doubt, it's one of the bigger ones we have to make in the next week or so."
But the acquisition of the right-handed-hitting Fox, who hit 11 homers with 44 RBI in 82 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2009, might mean that the A's diversify the DH role in 2010. Fox can play third and first base as well as the outfield, but he could also receive a fair share of at-bats at DH, particularly if Eric Chavez is healthy enough to contribute.
Health reports are good on Chavez, who has been troubled by injuries in recent years and last June underwent a second microdiscectomy on his back that forced him to miss the balance of the 2009 season. The A's aren't counting on him being the everyday third baseman, but he could split time between third and DH with Fox.
Other possibilities at third are top prospect Brett Wallace and former Angels third baseman Dallas McPherson, who was signed to a minor league deal. Still, Beane said the A's will look to add another option at third base.
"Eric's feeling great," Beane said. "But for us to go into spring training and just hope that he's going to be OK — one, that's probably not a great strategy for 2010, and two, ultimately it's obviously a position we're going to have to fill long-term even when Eric is gone."
Chavez is entering the final year of a six-year, $66 million contract.
Beane said he would prefer to find another young player in addition to Fox who could man third base for an extended period as opposed to a one-year stopgap such as Adam Kennedy, who performed well last year. Kennedy may yet be an option to re-sign in 2010, but that's not the priority.
"In a perfect world, Eric comes back and has a great year, and Brett continues to work at the position," Beane said. "But we have to cover all sides."
A season after several young pitchers established themselves at the major league level, the A's might see a wave of position players do the same this year, led by Wallace and first basemen Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle.
Carter, the A's best power prospect, and Doolittle will get a trial in the outfield in spring training. If either or both makes the club, that could affect the DH spot, with Daric Barton also still in the running at first base.
Beane indicated that the A's are more likely to sign a free agent during the winter meetings than make a trade. He said he routinely fields calls from other clubs asking about young players such as Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney and others, but that the A's aren't inclined to mess with their nucleus.
"There are a few major league free agents that could be of interest to us," he said. "I would think we will have some meetings with some of the agents for those players. But we really want to stay disciplined and hold on to the group of young players that are starting to come through. We're showing some green sprouts, and we just have to be patient."