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Exchange of numbers

Major league teams exchanged salary figures today with their players who filed for arbitration. A’s right-hander Justin Duchscherer asked for $4.6 million, while the team offered $3 million. Duchscherer is the only arbitration-eligible Athletic unsigned for 2009. A’s assistant GM David Forst reiterated his belief the sides can reach an agreement without an arbitration hearing, which would take place sometime between Feb. 1-21. Either Duchscherer and the team will find common ground and work out a contract, or they will go to a hearing, stating their case to a three-person panel which will decide whether Duchscherer gets $4.6 million or $3 million.

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WBC possibilities

The provisional 45-man rosters for the World Baseball Classic included four players who could be part of the A’s Opening Day roster — relievers Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler (United States) and Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic), and outfielder Chris Denorfia (Italy). Also included were A’s minor league pitchers Scott Mitchinson (Australia) and Ricardo Penalba (Panama). Mitchinson pitched in Single-A last season, splitting time between Kane County and Stockton, while Penalba, just 20, was in rookie ball. There are no guarantees any of these six will be playing in the WBC. Final rosters for all countries don’t have to be set until Feb. 24.

–ESPN’s Buster Olney has a rumor up on his blog that the A’s are one of the teams considering free agent reliever Russ Springer. He’s 40, but the right-hander has made at least 70 appearances each of the last three seasons. The A’s also have been connected to lefty reliever Dennys Reyes. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them sign a veteran reliever as they’ve done the past two winters with Alan Embree and Keith Foulke.

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Some tidbits

A few items to check out, in case you missed them:

– Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post says the A’s have revived trade talks with the Nationals for first baseman Nick Johnson. Sheinin brings up Daric Barton, saying the Nats are looking for a young first baseman in exchange. We know the A’s examined Johnson’s medical records in November, but this move wouldn’t do anything to help the logjam at 1B/DH.

– Check this out. Paul Sullivan, a TV producer/filmmaker/comedian/baseball nut, studied all 30 MLB teams and came up with an All-Time Homegrown Team and All-Time Acquired Players Team for every franchise (with so many job descriptions, how did he find time to do this?). Anyway, you can read the A’s lists here. There are some curious calls, like shoe-horning Vida Blue into the bullpen on the homegrown team (justifying it with Blue’s clutch relief in the postseason). But hat’s off to the guy for undertaking this, and there’s some entertaining commentary.

– Did you notice Kirk Saarloos signed a minor league deal with the Indians? Don’t underestimate the loss of him and lefty Lenny DiNardo (who signed w/the Royals) for the A’s this season. Their rotation is probably going to be very young, and Saarloos and DiNardo were the type of swing guys who provided nice insurance however needed.

– Along those lines, with the A’s in need of some veteran pitching, remember former Athletic Mark Mulder is still out there. A huge injury risk, for sure. But he couldn’t command much in salary (a minor-league deal seems most likely), so it would be a low-risk gamble. Mulder hasn’t pitched a full season since 2005 because of left shoulder problems. He has yet to work out for scouts this winter.

– Former A’s first baseman Dan Johnson signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League.

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More on Cust

Got it from a reliable source that Cust’s one-year deal is for $2.8 million, a VERY nice bump from $410,000 last year. He led the A’s last season with 33 homers, 77 RBI, 77 runs, .476 slugging percentage and 229 total bases. Yes, he set an American League record with 197 strikeouts and hit just .231. But the A’s obviously think a lot of his bat, and that’s why he’s likely to see substantial time in right field when Jason Giambi is at DH.

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A’s, Cust agree to terms

The A’s settled with one of their two arbitration-eligible players today, agreeing to terms with OF/DH Jack Cust on a one-year contract. Financial numbers aren’t yet known. Last season he made $410,000, and considering he led the A’s in homers for the second straight year in 2008, he was in line for a nice salary bump.

It likely won’t be such an easy process with right-hander Justin Duchscherer, the A’s only remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible player. Last week Duchscherer’s agent, Damon Lapa, told me he wasn’t optimistic about the two sides reaching an agreement. That would send them to arbitration in February, where Duchscherer’s side would propose a salary and the A’s would propose a salary, with an arbitrator deciding which side wins. Duchscherer made $1.2 million in 2008. If he and the A’s do end up in a hearing? Duchscherer can boast of a second All-Star berth in 2008 to go with a 10-8 record, 2.54 ERA and .210 opponents’ batting average. He accomplished that in his first season as a starter. The A’s can point to the fact that Duchscherer, 31, has had back-to-back injury shortened seasons. He’s coming off his second right hip surgery in two years.

But there’s no debating how much a healthy Duchscherer will mean to this year’s rotation, which is extremely inexperienced behind him.

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Congrats, Rickey

There are certain athletes who immediately take you back to your childhood when you hear their names mentioned. Rickey Henderson is one of those for me, perhaps more so than any player. So while there’s a pile of different stats available to justify his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, those mental snapshots of watching him play have an even bigger impact for me. If you’re around my age (33) and grew up a baseball fan in the Bay Area, you might feel the same.

Rickey was in his first stint with the A’s — wearing No. 35 then, not 24 — when I first remember going to the Coliseum. He was in left field, Dwayne Murphy in center, Tony Armas in right. And while I’m sure I didn’t grasp just how special a player he was yet, I knew he was unique: From the crouching batting stance, to the wristbands, to the way he carried himself on the field. I’d mimic his stance while playing Wiffle ball with friends and realize that A) It actually hurt to contort your body like that, and B) somehow Rickey managed he hit the ball very hard that way. I’m sure a lot of you also had the poster that Mizuno put out after he broke Lou Brock’s single-season stolen base mark in 1982: Rickey, looking into the camera with his cleats slung over his shoulder and the words “119 and counting” underneath. A classic.

Anyway, you’ll read plenty tomorrow about his HOF induction, and you don’t need me to tell you how special he was. But when an athlete registers that kind of impact w/you, it’s worth sharing. If anyone has any favorite Rickey moments of their own, let’s hear them …

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Oops, forgot …

One thing I’ve been meaning to pass along, and some of you probably already heard:

The A’s aren’t holding FanFest this year. Instead, they’re holding what’s called “Fan Appreciation Workout Day” on Sunday, April 5, at the Coliseum. Admission and parking will be free. Players will be in their regular-season uniforms, and they’ll be conducting a full workout (BP, fielding, etc.). Included in the agenda: autograph sessions and Q & A sessions. The A’s open the regular season the following day in Anaheim against the Angels.

Spread the word …

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Giambi aftermath

Here’s a few leftover items from Jason Giambi’s press conference that are worth pondering:

*It’s becoming very clear that the A’s focus in free agency will remain finding more hitting as opposed to starting pitching. Anyone out there feeling nervous over this? Justin Duchscherer is the only tested veteran who’s guaranteed a rotation spot, and you have to put an asterisk by his name because of his health history. The A’s have lots of talented pitchers in the organization but they’re mostly inexperienced. The brass seems willing to go with them. Revealing quote from Beane: “We’ve got a lot of young starting pitching. … That is the strength of the organization and sometimes that comes quicker than expected. But there’s some talented guys and I’m willing to roll the dice with talent over the course of the next couple of years.”

What does that mean for the big league ETA of Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill? Read into it what you will. … The A’s also think that the more they improve their offense, the less of an issue their inexperienced pitching becomes. Makes sense to me. Another quote from Beane: “We‘ve still got a lot of offseason left so I think we’re going to still look for some opportunities to improve our offense.”

*OK, so Bob Geren likes Daric Barton at first base, which would mean Giambi is the DH, which would mean Jack Cust plays right field. But where does that leave Travis Buck? Or even Aaron Cunningham? Buck has been mentioned as a candidate for leadoff hitter, but he can’t lead off if he doesn’t have a position. In that case, you’re probably looking at Ryan Sweeney batting atop the lineup. Thoughts? Sweeney is slated to play center field, remember, so he’s not affected when Cust plays the outfield.

*Giambi is four homers shy of 400 for his career, and Beane mentioned during the press conference that Giambi wants to join the 500-HR club before he retires. That seems a stretch, but Giambi did say Wednesday that “I see myself playing three or four more years.” That might also be a stretch.

*And lastly, here’s Beane’s take on how the A’s offense is shaping up: “When Jason (Giambi) first got here, we had a bunch of guys that hit three-run homers. We had four-hour games and I loved every minute of it because we were scoring 7-8 runs a game. Then we ended up with the Big Three and became a very good pitching and defensive club, which was a very good club. But I think now, hopefully … we’ve put together the type of offense we want. I want guys who are patient, guys who hit homers, guys who get on base.”

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Done deal

The A’s officially announced the signing of Jason Giambi. A news conference is set for 2 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum and will be carried live by Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Comcast SportsNet California. As expected, it’s a one-year deal with an option for the 2010 season. Financial specifics to come later. To read an expanded story, click here.