A's general manager Billy Beane knows he has one gaping hole to fill before mid-February -- shortstop -- but the notion that it will happen at Major League Baseball's winter meetings beginning Monday probably is naïve.
Even though Beane says he enjoys attending the meetings, which this year are in Nashville, he generally bolts town early. His itinerary isn't expected to change in 2012.
Under Beane's stewardship, Oakland has rarely conducted much trading at the meetings. Over the past nine years, the A's have made just two minor deals at MLB's offseason summit. They acquired utility infielder Jake Fox in 2009 and picked up pitcher Chad Gaudin in 2005.
Beane has often maintained that it's harder to make deals and pursue free agents at the winter meetings because of the hype and scrutiny surrounding every need and rumor. He'd rather keep his discussions more private, and in a more sane domain.
"From a club's perspective, it can be a little bit distracting because, when you go there, you end up finding yourself being tugged in so many ways from a media standpoint," he said. "I understand the value of the winter meetings, but the work environment is not necessarily ideal."
The A's do not go to the meetings and twiddle their thumbs, however. Last year in Dallas, when clubs learned Oakland was marketing starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey, Beane was exceedingly popular.
"I feel like
For two days, Beane never left his suite as teams came calling about those pitchers. Yet the A's left the meetings without making a move. But they did lay some heavy groundwork.
They came home and traded Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks the day after the meetings ended. Two weeks later, on Dec. 23, they traded Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals. Five days later, Bailey was dealt to the Boston Red Sox. All three of those deals had their seeds sewn at the winter meetings.
Beane has far less to overhaul this year with a revamped team that is now the defending American League West champion. There is a glut of outfielders with Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Seth Smith and newly acquired Chris Young, and they also have top prospect Michael Choice, who could be playing at Triple-A this year.
Oakland has Brandon Moss and Chris Carter as the potential first base platoon, and Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore, who missed last season following knee surgery, set to do battle at second. Josh Donaldson cemented the third base spot in the second half of 2012, and the catching platoon of Derek Norris and George Kottaras isn't expected to change.
Pitching-wise, even with Brandon McCarthy a free agent, the A's have six solid candidates for the rotation -- Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and recently re-signed Bartolo Colon. The bullpen is equally well-stocked from the left and right side.
So that leaves shortstop. After trading Cliff Pennington to Arizona as part of the Young deal last month, the A's publicly stated No. 1 goal was to re-sign free agent Stephen Drew. But Drew has attracted interest from other clubs, and Oakland will only be looking to bring him back for the right deal -- probably nothing more than two years.
That could be tough. Drew's agent is Scott Boras, and even though there was a mutual option for 2013 that Drew could have allowed the A's to exercise, Boras declined it on behalf of his client.
What are the alternatives to Drew? In house, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales can play the position, but they're utility players probably not suited to a full-time role.
The free-agent market is decidedly thin, but there could be trade possibilities. Cleveland is reportedly shopping Asdrubal Cabrera (.270, 16 homers this past season) in hopes of landing starting pitching. The Houston Astros are said to be open to dealing Stanford alum Jed Lowrie, who hit .244 with 16 homers in his first N.L. season in 2012.
Down the road, the A's hope their future shortstop is last year's top draft pick, 18-year-old Addison Russell.