Click photo to enlarge
Oakland Athletics' Josh Willingham, right, runs the bases on his solo homer off Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz, left, during the third inning of a MLB game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

The A's face a crucial decision in whether to re-sign left fielder Josh Willingham, a potential free agent who could be one of the more enticing outfielders available this winter.

Willingham, 32, leads the A's in homers (22) and RBIs (73). Though he's hitting just .249, he fills a void as the type of right-handed power hitter the team is perpetually searching for.

Acquired from the Washington Nationals in December for reliever Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown, Willingham says he would like to return to Oakland.

His agent, Matt Sosnick, says Willingham seeks a two- to three-year contract and that the ball is in the A's court.

"I think his inclination would be to stay here, if it's something that could get done by the end of the season," Sosnick said. "If not, he's going to go out and really explore his options."

Therein lies the rub.

The A's have six potential free agents -- Willingham and fellow outfielders Coco Crisp and David DeJesus; designated hitter Hideki Matsui; first baseman/outfielder Conor Jackson; and starting pitcher Rich Harden.

Team officials have said they won't decide whether to re-sign anybody until after the season.

And though teams get a five-day window after the World Series to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents, the A's will have more difficulty signing Willingham if that window passes and other teams get a crack at him.


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"The most informed decision we can make is after the season," A's assistant general manager David Forst said. "We certainly understand (the risk in waiting). He's going to be a sought-after player this offseason."

This winter's free-agent class is not deep in power-hitting outfielders, which benefits Willingham.

Among potential free-agent outfielders, as listed by mlbtraderumors.com, only the Cardinals' Lance Berkman entered Monday with more homers (28) than Willingham.

But the Giants' Carlos Beltran and the Twins' Michael Cuddyer are among other outfielders who will command interest. Both sport higher career batting averages than Willingham and are better defenders.

Sosnick said he believes Willingham -- who makes $6 million this season -- is worth a contract that exceeds the two-year, $13.5 million deal that the Royals recently gave outfielder Jeff Francoeur.

Francoeur, 27, is hitting .275 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs, but he also possesses one of the game's best throwing arms.

Given the A's lack of power in recent years, it's fair to ask: Can they afford not to bring Willingham back?

They entered Monday with the third-fewest home runs in the American League (81), and Willingham's 22 homers are the most by an A's right-handed batter since Frank Thomas swatted 39 in 2006.

Willingham, who lives in his native Alabama during the offseason, says he's adapted well to the Bay Area and playing for the A's.

"I'm comfortable here," he said. "I've developed good relationships."

He's also adjusted to the pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum. Willingham is just four homers shy of the career-high 26 he hit with Florida in 2006. He has more homers at the Coliseum (12) this season than on the road (10).

But one major league scout pointed to Willingham's defense and his 113 strikeouts -- sixth-most in the A.L. entering Monday -- as warning signs.

"He was more mobile (in the past) than he's been this year," said the scout, who requested anonymity. "He was a better defensive player."

However, the same scout believes the A's best bet would be to re-sign Willingham.

"There's nobody at Triple-A that can do what Willingham is doing right now."

A strained left Achilles that he suffered in mid-June sidelined Willingham for 17 games, and injuries have limited him to fewer than 120 games twice in the past three seasons.

  • The A's optioned catcher Landon Powell to Triple-A Sacramento and will announce a corresponding roster move Tuesday.