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The Hot Stove

The Winter Meetings commence in Nashville, Tenn., six days from now, and the A’s and Giants, traditionally tight-lipped during this time of year, continue to pop up on the rumor mill. Here are three key questions regarding each.

A’S

1) Do the A’s view themselves as contenders or rebuilders? Wrote back in September that the this franchise is a bit like a house that eventually will need some major renovation; the question is when to begin? Chances are, the offers the A’s get for pitchers Dan Haren and Joe Blanton during the meetings could well determine the answer. Haren, especially, may be the most attractive pitcher on the market behind Minnesota’s Johan Santana (and some would argue, more), because he’s a very cheap No. 1. But that might make him even more desirable for the A’s to keep, because with full health, the A’s could still make some noise. Hard decision for Billy Beane to make.

2) How much of what they do will depend on the health of their roster? Almost all of it, because when healthy, the A’s still have a very sound roster. That said, can they really afford to count on starter Rich Harden, shortstop Bobby Crosby, center fielder Mark Kotsay to be key cogs anymore? And shouldn’t they be awfully concerned with how third baseman Eric Chavez will respond after three off-season surgeries?

3) Who are the A’s most attractive trade chips? Besides Haren and Blanton, the A’s could probably get some interesting offers for closer Huston Street, outfielder Nick Swisher and second baseman Mark Ellis (though it’s extremely doubtful the latter two are going anywhere).

GIANTS
1) Will they really trade Tim Lincecum? It appears they’re prepared to do so, if the prize is the middle-of-the-order bat they need so much. I’d hate to see that, because Lincecum is so fun to watch. But if you had to choose, I’d pick Matt Cain over Lincecum, because Cain, according to scouts, will probably prove to be more durable and has a nasty streak when he pitches that you just can’t teach.

2) Do they really need a center fielder? Look at it this way. If they can make a play for Aaron Rowand, they should, and they shouldn’t look down their noses at Andruw Jones, either. That said, it’s not worth overpaying for those two, because in Rajai Davis and Dave Roberts, the Giants have two guys who can patrol that patch of green pretty competently. The scary part, of course, is if one of them gets injured, and knowing Roberts’ history, that’s likely a matter of when, not if.

3) Besides Lincecum, who’s the best bait? At this point, perhaps catcher Bengie Molina. He had a fantastic year offensively, so his value may never be higher. Catcher can be replaced, and let’s face it, the Giants likely aren’t going to climb more than one or two rungs in the NL West, no matter who’s behind the plate.

rhurd