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Embree’s option declined

The A’s have passed on reliever Alan Embree’s $3 million option for the upcoming season, making the left-hander a free agent. I just got off the phone with A’s assistant GM David Forst, and he said the team has told Embree they’re open to re-signing him at a smaller price tag.

Look at the depth of the A’s bullpen, and it’s not a surprise the team isn’t willing to shell out $3 million on Embree. He wasn’t nearly as effective in 2008 as he was in ’07, and his role was dramatically reduced by the end of last season as guys such as Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler and Jerry Blevins (like Embree, a lefty) showed great promise. But much as in Mike Sweeney’s case, the A’s lose one of the game’s good guys if Embree doesn’t come back. You could throw any question at him about any topic, and he always had something intelligent to offer. And he was a stand-up guy after a bad game, sticking around to answer every question about what went wrong on the mound. Here’s hoping he finds a job somewhere if he wants to keep pitching.

The A’s also claimed infielder Joe Dillon off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. Dillon is 33 and split 2008 between Milwaukee and Triple-A, hitting .213 with one homer and six RBI in 56 major-league games.

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Macha resurfaces; spring training plans

By now you’ve probably heard that former A’s skipper Ken Macha was hired to be the new Milwaukee Brewers manager. Macha had been itching to return to the dugout. That’s why he dropped by unexpectedly at A’s camp last spring to visit some of his former players. He said he wanted to get his face out there and let it be known he was serious about managing again. That made for one of the odder days of spring training ’08: Seeing Macha, unceremoniously shown the door by the A’s after the ’06 season, wandering through the clubhouse shaking hands and mingling.

At any rate, fans can get an early look at Macha in his new uniform. The A’s 2009 spring training schedule is out, and their Cactus League opener comes Feb. 25 against the Brewers in Maryvale, Ariz.

Other tidbits about A’s spring camp:

*Single-game tix for spring training home games go on sale Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. at oaklandathletics.com.

*Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 14 and hold their first workout that day. Position players arrive Feb. 18 with the first full-squad workout the following day.

*Spring training is extra-long this year to accomodate the World Baseball Classic, to be staged throughout March. On March 5, the A’s will host a game against a yet-to-be-determined WBC opponent in Phoenix. The Bay Bridge Series with the Giants won’t be played until April 2-4, with the A’s opening the regular season against the Angels in Anaheim on April 6. In all, they will play 37 preseason games, a franchise record.

*The Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers join the Cactus League party this spring, shifting headquarters from Florida. The A’ s and Dodgers meet March 16 in Phoenix and March 30 in Glendale, the Dodgers’ new spring home. The A’s host Cleveland Feb. 28 and March 8 and play the Tribe on their home field in Goodyear, Ariz., March 13 and 20.

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Just a thought

So the hiring of Mike Gallego makes two former A’s players now on the coaching staff (pitching coach Curt Young being the other). Gallego mentioned to me today that Billy Beane said he liked the idea of adding another ex-Athletic to the fold.

It gets me to thinking: Gallego and Mark McGwire happen to be tight. And it’s known that McGwire has enjoyed tutoring big league hitters recently in a behind-the-scenes kind of way (he’s kept a very low profile in the game since his name was linked to the steroid scandal). One of the teams McGwire worked with was the Colorado Rockies, while Gallego was a coach there.

Might Big Mac someday drop by the Coliseum, or maybe show up at spring training, to offer some tips to A’s hitters? I asked Gallego if he would ever try to coordinate such an effort, and he said he and McGwire hadn’t chatted in a few months. He said McGwire is very committed to his family time right now, and family time would take a hit if McGwire ever wanted to get into coaching full time.

But Gallego also added: “I do know this, the times he did come out and work with some of the young hitters, even big hitters, they really, really enjoyed listening to Mark. The neat thing was watching McGwire’s face light up. He seemed to enjoy himself. … I’m sure if he let word out (he wanted to coach) he’d have a few callers. I can’t help but think Oakland would be one of them.”

Again, just my own speculation. And showing up would cause a media stir McGwire might want to avoid. But it’s something to keep in mind …

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Blast from the past …

Mike Gallego has been hired as the A’s third-base coach/infield coach, which completes Bob Geren’s staff for next season. The announcement was made earlier today. He replaces Tony DeFrancesco, who was re-assigned shortly after the regular season ended.

You’ll remember Gallego was a valuable middle infielder on Oakland’s 1989 World Series championship team. With the A’s suffering through some lean times now, it’s a clever nostalgic touch for the team to add someone with strong links to the glory days. In chatting with Gallego on the phone for a few minutes, it’s obvious he’s fired up about speeding the A’s rebuilding process along. Here’s a little bit more about Gallego’s coaching career since he retired.

DeFrancesco had been shifted from third-base coaching duties to first base in August, flip-flopping with Tye Waller. Seems logical Waller would return to coaching first base with Gallego manning third. …

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Some leftovers …

A couple of quick tidbits from A’s assistant GM David Forst that didn’t make their way into Tuesday’s Mark Ellis re-signing story:

–The A’s have interviewed candidates for the vacant spot on Bob Geren’s coaching staff, left open when first-base coach Tony DeFrancesco was re-assigned to the minors. It’s possible, but not definite, they could make a hire by the end of this week. The A’s are looking for someone who can coach the infield, duties that DeFrancesco also handled. Could anyone out there picture Mike Gallego handling this post? The former Athletic was recently let go from the Colorado Rockies’ coaching staff. Bringing him on board would strike a chord with fans who remember his playing days in Oakland, but he’s also said to be a candidate for the New York Yankees’ third-base coaching spot.

–A’s front office members recently spent time in Arizona watching some of their players participating in the Arizona Fall League and Instructional League. They’ll also take an interest in one young player taking the field far away from Phoenix. Michael Inoa, the 16-year-old pitching phenom they signed to a $4.25 million bonus in July, is beginning Instructional League at the team’s Dominican Republic headquarters. The league runs through December. Forst said a possible next step would be bringing Inoa to the United States to pitch for the Arizona Athletics, the A’s Phoenix-based rookie league team that begins play in June. Inoa turned 17 in September.

That’s all for now. Hope everyone enjoys the World Series …

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Not going anywhere

The A’s sent out an official release this afternoon that second baseman Mark Ellis has agreed to a two-year contract with a club option for 2011. The deal reportedly will pay him between $10-11 million total over the next two seasons not including incentives. That number could reach in the neighborhood of $18 million if the A’s pick up the option for 2011.

From here, it looks like a pretty wise move on the A’s part. I don’t think you realize the value of a player like Ellis until he’s no longer in the clubhouse. You could justify his signing based strictly on the rock-solid defense he plays, but it’s also important to have players that set an example for how major leaguers should go about their daily business. That’s no small thing for such a young team.

All indications are that he will be fully recovered from right shoulder surgery by spring training. I’d also expect him to hit better than last season. Ellis didn’t want to use his up-in-the-air status as an excuse for his hitting woes in 2008, but if it wasn’t weighing on him, he probably wouldn’t have called off the in-season negotiations.

As for the ripple effects for the rest of the A’s infield, shortstop Bobby Crosby’s name is circulating as a possible trade piece, though it seems he’d have to be packaged with somebody to get another team to take interest. But with Ellis’ re-signing, I’d expect Cliff Pennington to get more looks at shortstop no matter what. The A’s also are high on minor league middle infielder Adrian Cardenas, who they hope will be equally comfortable playing 2B or SS. He’s playing in the AZ Fall League right now.

Anyhow, I realize Ellis isn’t a marquee name. But it’s not often the news involves the A’s retaining one of their key veterans. How do all of you feel about the move?