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The Major League offseason begins in earnest Monday night, and tops on the A’s to-do list is figuring out what to do at shortstop.
Their seven free agents will hit the open market at 9 p.m. Monday, and Oakland isn’t expected to re-sign any of them before that happens. Of that group, no one’s departure would leave a bigger hole than shortstop Jed Lowrie.
The A’s chose not to extend a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to Lowrie, who should attract lots of attention in what’s considered a weak market for middle infielders. The 30-year-old switch hitter will look for a multi-year deal in his first time testing the free-agent waters, and he won’t come cheap.
Lowrie is open to returning to the A’s. But if he’s fielding multi-year offers in the $10 million-a-year range, which seems possible, Oakland might not engage in that bidding war.
If he departs, the A’s will have to go out and get somebody – either through free agency or trade – because there’s no other Major League-ready everyday shortstop currently in the organization.
“It’s obviously important,” general manager Billy Beane said recently. “We have a kid coming up (Daniel Robertson) that we think highly of, but he’s not ready. It’s certainly going to be a position of need and concern.”
So which shortstops might entice the A’s in free agency? None would be a perfect solution, that’s for sure.
Hanley Ramirez, 30, is the biggest name on the open market, and that ensures he’ll be out of the A’s price range. His best defensive days are behind him anyway, and there’s thought that he might need to shift to third base.
Switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera has a solid track record of run production, but his range isn’t great at short (which is a common knock on Lowrie). It’s possible Cabrera, who turns 29 this month, also attracts the A’s attention as a second baseman. They could look to upgrade there.
Stephen Drew, 31, would provide better defense than either of the two mentioned above. Would that be enough for the A’s to overlook that .162 batting average Drew posted in 85 games last season for the Red Sox and Yankees? Remember, the A’s made a trade for Drew in August 2012, but he left via free agency the following winter.
The A’s could also look to swing a trade for a shortstop, and in that scenario, one major league scout who requested anonymity suggested keeping an eye on the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have a deep stable of young shortstops. The Chicago Cubs also could deal from their middle infield surplus.
As for the A’s other six free agents, starting pitcher Jon Lester is considered one of the premium players available at any position, and he’ll land a huge deal elsewhere. Fellow starter Jason Hammel also is lined up for a nice payday, and the rotation isn’t the most urgent of Oakland’s needs.
Neither outfielder Jonny Gomes nor infielder Alberto Callaspo seems likely to return. Setup man Luke Gregerson filled a significant role in last season’s bullpen but could land a multi-year deal on the open market. As for catcher Geovany Soto, he certainly proved valuable after coming to Oakland in an August trade. But the A’s will have both Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt back next season, and if arbitration-eligible John Jaso returns from concussion problems and is deemed able and willing to catch, it would seem to squeeze Soto out of the picture.