A year after costly injuries to key players derailed their playoff aspirations, the A's had even more injuries -- in terms of quantity and quality -- in 2006 but were able to win the division because of improved depth.
Retaining that depth isn't always easy for a team with a modest payroll. But the A's payroll did increase last year, which is why the Oakland was able to add outfielder Milton Bradley, take a low-risk chance on Frank Thomas and sign Esteban Loaiza without having to trade anybody else to level the payroll.
The payroll could increase a little from last year's mid-$60 million range. With so many younger players getting more experience -- such as Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton and Dan Haren -- the A's should keep getting better.
The biggest immediate question for the A's is who will replace Ken Macha as manager.
Ron Washington, Oakland third base coach, is the overwhelming favorite among players, fans and the media. Washington interviewed with Florida a year ago, and he already has spoken with Texas this offseason.
Bob Geren is also considered a favorite, since he interviewed last year, moved from bullpen coach to bench coach to get more experience, and he has known general manager Billy Beane since childhood.
Orel Hershiser, Jamie Quirk and Larry Bowa were the other three candidates a year ago. None of them ever interviewed because the A's did a 180 and rehired Macha. Hershiser, even though he's never managed, is somebody the A's have always admired for his knowledge of the game and his charisma.
Bud Black is another potential candidate. Hiring Black would have the double edge of weakening the rival Angels because he's been a very successful and respected pitching coach for seven years.
--C Jason Kendall, when asked to endorse a new manager for the A's, picked his dad, Royals bullpen coach and former major league catcher Fred Kendall.
--RF Milton Bradley said he would prefer a multiyear contract because six consecutive years of one-year deals has gotten old, but he will be prepared for whatever happens this offseason. Bradley has one more year of salary arbitration before he's eligible for free agency.
--OF Jay Payton, a free agent, wasn't sure where he would end up next year, but he wasn't too worried because he knows he'll have a job somewhere. The A's have talked to his agent about returning to Oakland, but Payton might want playing time guarantees or a multiyear deal that the A's can't provide.
--3B Eric Chavez, who added about 15 pounds last offseason, said he will probably shed that weight this offseason because he believes the additional pounds might have led to his hamstring troubles, which led to his back problems and forearm tendinitis.
--RHP Dan Haren, the only A's player to live year-round in the Bay Area, will get married this offseason.
BY THE NUMBERS: $44.5 million -- Salary the A's have committed to nine players next year: C Jason Kendall; OF Mark Kotsay; INFs Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby; and RHPs Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Jay Witasick and Esteban Loaiza.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not just saying that because he's my dad. I know my dad would be a good manager. I'm not saying he will be the next A's manager. But he played 12 years, he's coached eight years, he's somebody that is well respected and knows the game. But that's Billy's job (to hire somebody), not mine. My job is to catch. I'll play hard no matter who the manager is. I just love to play. I love the game and I got that enjoyment from my father." -- C Jason Kendall, endorsing his dad Fred Kendall to be the next managerial hire for Oakland GM Billy Beane.
ROSTER REPORT The A's don't have a lot of rebuilding to do with their roster. They will need a starter to take LHP Barry Zito's place in the rotation, although that will probably be in the fourth or fifth slot, and everybody else will move up a slot. If Jay Payton or Frank Thomas isn't brought back, the A's will need an outfielder and/or a DH. Beyond that, the roster is set.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Another starting pitcher. There's no shortage of in-house candidates. RHP Kirk Saarloos and LHP Brad Halsey bounced between the rotation and the bullpen last year. LH reliever Joe Kennedy was a starter a year and a half ago. RHPs Jason Windsor and Shane Komine pitched well at Triple-A Sacramento, but they were shaky in brief major league tryouts.
RHP Jerome Williams was claimed off waivers from the Cubs. RHP Juan Dominguez and LHP Dan Meyer had ineffective and injury-prone seasons in the minors. It's a long list of candidates, and this year proved you can never have enough starting pitching. But none of them are close to Zito's caliber.
FREE AGENTS: LHP Barry Zito, OF Jay Payton, DH Frank Thomas.
The A's have virtually no shot at reaching the price Zito can command. It's very likely they will re-sign Thomas. Payton is the biggest question. It likely will depend on what his asking price is and what the other options are.
It's a long list of players, and all of them will probably be back. The candidates for a non-tender are Kielty and Perez, although it's doubtful they'll go that route. Since Billy Beane became general manager, the A's have only taken two players to arbitration -- Ariel Prieto and Juan Cruz -- and they won both.
PROSPECT WATCH: The injury bug ravaged the A's top prospects as much as it hurt the major league team. Top prospect 1B Daric Barton (elbow, hamstring) was out from mid-May. OF Javier Herrera had elbow surgery in spring training and missed the year. OFs Travis Buck and Danny Putnam missed significant time. The highlights were the pitching performances of RHPs Shane Komine and Jason Windsor at AAA-Sacramento. They figure to compete for a job on next year's staff in spring training.