Oakland A's Notes: Winter Meetings & Signings

Few teams go into the winter meetings as unsettled as the A's. The front office had a series of conference calls in late November to try to determine which way Oakland will go -- status quo and try to contend vs. rebuilding -- and nothing compelling has come out of those talks that would swing general manager Billy Beane one way or another.

So other teams might make the decision for Oakland. If the A's are presented with a fantastic offer for Dan Haren or Joe Blanton, something they just can't turn down, then the rebuilding process is likely to be under way. If Haren goes, Blanton is likely to follow, as the A's look to restock their depleted farm system. (It's possible, however, that if Blanton is dealt, that Haren might remain -- unlike Blanton, Haren is signed to a reasonable deal that takes him through his arbitration years).

What would the A's be looking for in return? Packages of high-level prospects and at every position, really. Oakland is thin in starting pitching at the higher levels of the minors, and the team has needs everywhere else, too. Luckily for Oakland, some of the clubs with the most interest in starters have excellent prospects, including the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Tigers and, possibly, the Red Sox.

If Oakland were to move both Blanton and Haren, it's not a given that closer Huston Street would go, too, even though he is arbitration-eligible. The A's would be looking for 40-man-roster types when dealing the two starters, and they'd be looking for such a haul that the roster might be packed at that point. In addition, Street is a possibility for a multiyear deal this winter, and the cost control that would provide the A's might help his chances of sticking.

Rich Harden is the real unknown. Beane always has said he doesn't wish to trade the talented right-hander for less than his full value when healthy, but Harden's many injuries the past few years have lessened that value significantly in the eyes of any potential trade partners. There's little doubt, however, that there is enormous frustration on both sides over Harden's limited availability much of his time in Oakland, and a fresh start for Harden might be good for everyone involved. At the same time, the A's would hate to part with Harden for little and then see him pitch a full, healthy season elsewhere.

Should the A's chose to rebuild, it is possible that several other players might be traded over the course of the season, as much to create spots for young talent as to trim salary and provide more prospects. Center fielder Mark Kotsay would be one such possibility, though his history of back trouble will make any trade more difficult.

A's Sign More International Talent
Oakland's increased emphasis on international scouting has produced two more additions: For the first time ever, the club has paid six figures for prospects in the Dominican Republic, signing 17-year-old LHP Omar Castillo and 18-year-old SS Franklyn Contreras, a switch hitter.

The club also signed RHP Arnold Leon from Saltillo in the Mexican League, and purchasing the reliever's contract was also a "significant investment," well into the six figures, according to assistant GM David Forst. The A's never had spent more than $40,000 for a Latin American prospect until this month.

News and Notes
--A's players were devastated at the news of LHP Joe Kennedy's death on Nov. 23. Kennedy, who was with Oakland for a little more than two seasons before being waived in August, was a popular teammate, known especially for his sense of humor. "One thing I admired about Joe was that he could have a bad game and still have a smile on his face when he left the clubhouse; he didn't take it home with him," A's starter Dan Haren said. "That's probably because he loved his wife, he loved his kid and he had reason to love life."

--1B Wes Bankston was claimed off waivers from the Royals on Nov. 28. The A's always have a need for right-handed slugging, and Bankston, who also can play third base, does have some pop. The A's have liked the 24-year-old for a while, and he will get an invitation to big-league camp.

--RHP Henry Rodriguez, a 20-year-old recently added to the A's 40-man roster, was pitching well in Venezuela this winter. Opponents had a .168 average against the reliever in 10 games for Zulia.

--LHP Jerry Blevins, who was up with the A's in September, retired 11 of the 12 men he faced for Team USA at the baseball World Cup in Taiwan.

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