Oakland A's Winter Meetings Preview

The annual baseball winter meetings start in Anaheim on Friday and the Oakland A's figure to be at the center of baseball's Hot Stove. Scout.com will be covering the winter meetings from start to finish. Here is a preview of what scenarios may unfold for Oakland this weekend.

1) Trade Tim Hudson?

In what has to be one of the worst-kept secrets of the winter Hot Stove, the A's, for the first time, appear willing to entertain offers for their number one starter, Tim Hudson. Hudson, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2005 season, is likely to command at least $12 million a year for four years when he signs his next contract. With Eric Chavez already signed to a long-term deal and Barry Zito and Mark Mulder also nearing their free agent years, the A's aren't likely to be able to meet Hudson's asking price.

In year's past, the A's have chosen to keep their premier players up until their free agency year, figuring that trying to win a championship with a player like Jason Giambi or Miguel Tejada in tow was worth more than whatever prospects the A's might have received for the star sluggers. However, Hudson's situation is different than Giambi's or Tejada's. First, pitchers are more valuable commodities than sluggers, meaning the A's are likely to get a better package of players for Hudson then they would have for Giambi or Tejada. Second, the A's franchise is in a different position then it was in 2001 or 2003. The A's of 2001 and 2003 were teams essentially in the middle of a run for a championship with a core group of players that centered around the Big Three. However, the A's of 2005 will be in a unique position of being at the tail end of the run of teams led by the Big Three and at the beginning of what should be a successful run of teams lead by players like Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, Nick Swisher, etc.

A's General Manager Billy Beane has already acquired two players who should be able to help the A's make this transition in Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall, who are both under the A's control for a couple more years. Beane may be able to acquire another strong offensive player to aid in the transition by trading Hudson. In addition, Beane may be able to fill a few other holes in his bullpen and at the back of his rotation with a trade. Below are some of the teams and players that might be good fits for a trade:

Atlanta Braves

Of the teams that have been rumored to be interested in Hudson, Atlanta seems to have the most to offer. Second baseman Marcus Giles has been linked to most of the rumored trades. Giles, like Kotsay and Kendall, would be a good fit because he would be under the A's control for a few more years and is a veteran, All-Star caliber player. Giles would also fill a positional need for the A's at second base. With the health of Mark Ellis up in the air, second base is a question mark for the A's. Adding Giles to the infield would give Oakland one of the most talented infields in baseball. Giles would not only be an offensive upgrade at second, he would also be a defensive upgrade over the A's second basemen from last season, Marco Scutaro and Mark McLemore.

The A's are also likely interested in getting a starter and a reliever as part of the package for Hudson. In addition to Giles, Atlanta can offer reliever Juan Cruz and starting prospect Dan Meyer. Cruz was a starter with the Chicago Cubs but found success last season in the Atlanta bullpen. He has control problems at times and can get over-emotional on the mound, but Cruz has tremendous stuff and would be an excellent seventh or eighth inning man for the A's. Meyer is an excellent left-handed starting prospect who could potentially slide into the A's fifth spot in the rotation or could be packaged in another trade for more prospects.

St. Louis Cardinals

Ever since their pitching staff was lit up by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, St. Louis has been on a mission to upgrade their starting rotation. They have already bid adieu to Woody Williams and were rumored to be involved in trade talks for Randy Johnson. When those talks fell through, it was reported that the Cardinals turned their attention towards acquiring Hudson. It isn't as obvious what the Cardinals would offer the A's for Hudson. St. Louis has some good, young pitching they can trade in Jason Marquis, Dan Haren and the re-born Rick Ankiel. However, the Cardinals don't have any young, cheap offensive stars that the A's might want. For the Cardinals to acquire Hudson, they are likely to have to involve a third team that has that young offensive player the A's might covet. Some possibilities could include Atlanta (who could send over Giles) or Cincinnati (who might be interested in Marquis and, perhaps, Ankiel in exchange for Austin Kearns).

Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles have seemingly been after any member of the Big Three since they were rumored to be available last June. Baltimore has reportedly offered a package that would involve the oft-injured but talented Jerry Hairston and pitching prospect Erik Bedard. Bedard, a hard-throwing lefty, showed promise during his rookie season in 2004, but it will likely take more than Bedard and Hairston to net Hudson. Hairston is not a huge upgrade over Mark Ellis and Bedard is a bit of an unknown commodity because of his youth. The Orioles could sweeten the pot by adding set-up man BJ Ryan or outfielder Larry Bigbie, but it isn't clear whether the Baltimore brass is willing to let go of either player.

San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres have not yet appeared in the "official" trade rumors, but they could put together a package that would interest the A's. The Padres made a big push to win their division last season and have an excellent shot of taking the NL West in 2005. They have added former Cardinal Woody Williams to their rotation, but they are in danger of losing free agent David Wells. Hudson would probably be a good fit in the Padres rotation with Jake Peavey, Williams and Brian Lawrence. Adding Hudson would make starter Adam Eaton expendable. Eaton is young, relatively inexpensive and has a good K:BB ratio. He would be a good fourth starter in the A's rotation. The A's would also likely be interested in former California Golden Bear Xavier Nady. Nady had an OPS of 1020 in AAA last season and is being blocked at the major league level in San Diego. The Padres would probably have to offer something else in addition to Nady and Eaton, but they would make good cornerstones to a deal.

Of course, Beane may decide to keep his veteran righthander and ride his current rotation for one last attempt to win a championship with the Big Three at the helm. One thing is for certain, Beane will be a popular man at the meetings.

2) Sign or trade for a leftfielder

With Jermaine Dye now officially a White Sox, Beane will be on the hunt for some additional pop in his outfield. There are two directions Beane could go in his search for outfield power. He could use a trade to net an outfield bat, either by trading Hudson or trading prospects to a team with excess outfielders (the White Sox and Reds come to mind). The second option would be to sign a cheap veteran free agent. One free agent that has reportedly piqued the A's interest is former All-Star Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who hasn't played a full season since 2001, would likely sign for a low-base salary with room to make more money through performance incentives. It would be a fairly small risk to sign "Juan-Gone" and the reward could be tremendous. Gonzalez missed all but 33 games in 2004, but in 2003, he hit 24 homeruns in only 82 games. He would likely split time in the outfield and at DH if he joined Oakland.

3) Improve the Bullpen

Although the A's are expected to sign arbitration-eligible closer Octavio Dotel, they still have three open spots in their bullpen (spots vacated by Chris Hammond, Arthur Rhodes and Jim Mecir). At least one is expected to be filled by prospect Huston Street and another may be filled by waiver-wire acquisition Tim Harikkala. However, that leaves one spot free. While the A's have prospects who could fill that spot (Chris Mabeus, Ron Flores and Justin Lehr), they may be leery of entering the 2005 season with three pitchers with less than two years of experience (Justin Duchscherer being the third in that group) in their bullpen.

Barring a trade acquisition, Beane may target a few of the free agent relievers on the market, including: Esteban Yan, Paul Shuey (if he is recovered from his thumb tendon injury), and Antonio Osuna.

Whatever happens, it should be an intriguing weekend for those who follow the Oakland A's. Check back with OaklandClubhouse.com frequently for updates throughout the weekend.


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