Cust signs with Mariners

  Well, so much for Jack Cust making another unlikely comeback with the A’s. He signed a one-year deal with Seattle Wednesday, where they’re desperate for any kind of power surge. FoxSports reported the deal as being worth $2.5 million, which is slightly less than the $2.65 million Cust made in Oakland last year.

“I’m real excited,” Cust told MLB.com’s Greg Johns from his home in New Jersey. “Seattle is a team that showed some interest over the last couple years and is a place I’ve wanted to play. I love the city and everything about the Northwest. I’ve always been a big fan of the Mariners going back to the first [Ken Griffey Jr.] days, so I’m just excited to go up there and try to win some ballgames.”

Bottom line, the A’s will have a new DH this year, whoever it turns out to be.


Boras says Beltre still interested in the A’s

Carl Steward here, subbing for Joe Stiglich on the A’s doings at the MLB winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. …

Adrian Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, dropped a bit of a surprise Wednesday afternoon when, among a horde of reporters asking about myriad clients, I asked about whatever happened to the A’s reported five-year, $64 million offer to the veteran third baseman and the notion that he wasn’t interested in Oakland. Boras said that wasn’t the case.

“We have told teams that we would tell them if we were not interested, and we have told those teams where we are,” said Boras. “Certainly, Oakland was a team (Beltre) said he would be interested in looking at. We had meetings with their club, so that’s where we’re at now.”

It has been widely reported that the A’s made a five-year, $64 million offer to Beltre, but it was subsequently withdrawn in recent days. Asked about Oakland rescinding its offer, Boras was unfazed.

“Offers are like curtains,” he said. “There’s opening and closing, but they’re still in the room.”

Boras said Beltre provided him with a list of teams he’d be interested in signing with and that the A’s have always been in play as a possibility … and still are, as far as their side is concerned. It remains to be seen if the A’s, who have a strict policy of not commenting on unsigned free agents, might open the curtain again on Beltre. But the agent said Oakland has been on the list of options since Day 1 of the process.

“This was conveyed to the A’s long ago, as well as all the other teams we’ve dealt with that Adrian’s interested in,” the agent said.

Boras said there have already been a number of teams that have approached him about Beltre’s availability to them and been told it “would not be an environment they would go into.” Baltimore, he intimated, was one of those clubs.

Among other suitors, the A’s counterparts in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels, are expected to be major players in the Beltre chase and Boras admitted Southern California had attractive advantages.

“Obviously, Adrian has a home in L.A. and he’s played in L.A., so he’s very comfortable in that marketplace,” Boras said.



A’s shift gears in search of power, more pitching

Carl Steward here at the MLB winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., subbing for Joe Stiglich …

I wish there was something more than hot talk to report on the A’s today. Obviously, they have shifted their focus after losing out on free-agent hitter Lance Berkman as well as Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.

The focus from the hitting standpoint has shifted to another Japanese player, Hideki Matsui, who fits the bill for Oakland as a DH who could also play in the field during interleague games, as Matsui did last year for the Angels. Sources have confirmed that A’s general manager Billy Beane conversed with Matsui’s agent Arn Tellem Monday, and it’s at least rumored that Matsui may be interested in Oakland.

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Iwakuma deal sounding all but dead

Carl Steward here, subbing for Joe Stiglich at the MLB winter meetings …

The A’s still had roughly five hours of deadline to go when Billy Beane and his staff met with the Bay Area media Monday to discuss the status of negotiations with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. But things were sounding grim and grimmer that the two sides would make some sort of last-minute deal. For starters, they didn’t talk the entire day Monday.

Beane said it “would be a surprise” if the two sides were to make what he termed “an 11th-hour deal.”

A news report out of Japan earlier in the day declared that Iwakuma had already nixed the A’s and that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce that he was staying with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League. Beane wouldn’t go that far, but he sounded like he was preparing to allow the 12 a.m. EST deadline expire.

The only good news is that the A’s will recover the $19.1 million posting fee they made to acquire exclusive negotating rights with the 30-year-old right-handed pitcher. Beane wouldn’t talk about the negotiations, but indications are that the two sides were never close. The A’s reportedly offered roughly $9 million per season with the posting fee included while Iwakuma and his agent Don Nomura were looking for much more.


With Lance Berkman out of the equation, where do A’s turn next?

It’s back-to-the-drawing board time for the A’s with today’s news that Lance Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Berkman was the A’s No. 1 free agent target, and now they’ll be looking elsewhere to find a DH they hope can provide some power to this offense. It’s also logical to assume that the A’s will turn up the heat in their pursuit of third baseman Adrian Beltre. You have to think the A’s have made their pitch to Beltre and now are waiting for an answer. Could they go back and make an even more enticing offer?

I think the A’s chances at landing Beltre are partly tied to two of their AL West rivals. The Angels — who could use an upgrade at third base — are thought of as a possible destination for Beltre. But the Angels covet outfielder Carl Crawford as their top free agent target. Now it’s also being reported that there’s mutual interest between the Texas Rangers and Crawford, who was born and raised in Houston. Granted, several teams are in on him, including the Yankees and Red Sox. But let’s say the Rangers were to swoop in and sign Crawford. Would that spur the Angels to then push hard to sign Beltre, just to keep up with the defending AL West champs? And would the Angels’ potential interest in Beltre doom the A’s chances? I don’t know. Perhaps Oakland overwhelms him with a great multi-year offer and perhaps Beltre doesn’t want to wait around forever, and the A’s get their third baseman.

As for Berkman being out of the picture, I can tell you the A’s ranked a list of hitters they wanted to target this winter. Now they’re having to work further down that list for DH possibilities. You have to think Hideki Matsui now becomes a strong possibility, and it adds intrigue to the Hisashi Iwakuma negotiations if you believe the theory that signing Iwakuma would help Oakland get Matsui. It’s believed the A’s still hold hope they can sign Iwakuma, a right-hander who would bolster the depth of their rotation. Tuesday is the deadline to get him under contract, or he remains the property of the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

Any thoughts on what hitters you’d like to see the A’s pursue moving forward?


Ryan Sweeney agrees to one-year, $1.4 million deal; doing well in recovery from knee surgery

The A’s took care of one of their seven players up for arbitration, signing outfielder Ryan Sweeney to a one-year, $1.4 million deal that includes some incentives. That leaves six arbitration-eligible players left to sign: Pitchers Dallas Braden, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler; third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and outfielder Conor Jackson. Remember, all of these players are under contract w/the team now. It’s just a matter of whether the A’s can agree to financial terms with them, or whether they go through the arbitration process, in which a third party would assign a salary sometime in February. Players and teams generally try to avoid arbitration, and the A’s have had great success coming to terms with players before that stage. Over the next several weeks, we’ll hear of more of the remaining six agreeing to deals.

I talked to Sweeney over the phone, and he said his surgically repaired right knee is coming along well. He’s heading to Colorado on Tuesday for a check-up with Dr. Richard Steadman, who performed the July 30 procedure that was aimed to ease tendinitis in the knee. Sweeney said he’s hopeful he’ll be cleared to start running and doing hitting drills. His left knee also has caused him trouble, but Sweeney chose rehab over surgery for that knee, and he said it’s also responding well to treatment. Overall, he sounded very upbeat about his health, and his goal is to be full strength by the start of spring training.

The A’s have Sweeney penciled in to play either left or right field, with David DeJesus manning the opposite corner spot.


A’s non-tender Jack Cust, Edwin Encarnacion and Travis Buck; is Oakland making play for Adrian Beltre?

The news was slow to trickle out of A’s headquarters today regarding their non-tender decisions. But the team just announced they have non-tendered DH Jack Cust, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and outfielder Travis Buck. That means all three players become free agents. The A’s tendered contracts to the other seven players eligible for arbitration: pitchers Dallas Braden, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler; outfielders Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney; and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Last year, the A’s made the same move with Cust, but the two sides wound up agreeing on a one-year deal later on. Not sure I’d expect either side to want to travel that same road again. Cust’s departure isn’t a surprise, given the A’s are making a big push for Lance Berkman as their DH. Adam Dunn reportedly will sign with the White Sox, so he’s out of the A’s picture, though he was never a strong possibility for Oakland anyway, from what I gathered.

The biggest news was the A’s decision to retain Kouzmanoff over Encarnacion at third base. But the A’s may not be done addressing that position. Multiple reports today claimed the A’s are in serious pursuit of third baseman Adrian Beltre, with ESPN saying a deal could be close to happening. But Beltre told the Boston Globe today that he’s waiting to see what other offers develop, and that his preference is to return to the Red Sox. He added that he could sign a deal “right now if I wanted to.” Is he referring to a deal with Oakland?

As things stand, Kouzmanoff is the A’s starting third baseman. I’m not surprised they retained him over Encarnacion. The A’s brass is placing a heavy emphasis on infield defense, and Kouzmanoff is better defensively than Encarnacion. In all liklihood, he’ll also come a bit cheaper.

The A’s will now try negotiating contracts with all seven players they tendered, and avoid actually going to the arbitration table. The team has had great success avoiding arbitration in the past, usually agreeing to one-year deals with players as the offseason moves along.


Pondering Lance Berkman vs. Adam Dunn for the A’s

We’ll get some clarity on the A’s roster situation by Thursday night, as the team faces a 9 p.m. deadline to tender contracts to its 10 players eligible for arbitration. Those who aren’t offered contracts become free agents. As those decisions loom, here’s some thoughts on another A’s topic …

Adam Dunn’s name surfaced Wednesday as a free agent that Oakland could have interest in, but Lance Berkman remains their focus as they pursue a DH-type power hitter. I have no doubt that Dunn ranks somewhere on the A’s wish list of hitters. How could he not? He’s the top power hitter on the market, he’s just 31 years old and he’s averaged 40 homers over the past seven seasons. But he’s also likely to require a four- or five-year contract in the neighborhood of $70 million. That would likely leave the A’s with little salary room to make other additions. Berkman’s going rate is thought to be around $7 million on a one-year deal, and perhaps he’d come cheaper on a two-year deal. Signing him would give the A’s flexibility to shop for a proven fifth starter (if they aren’t able to sign Hisashi Iwakuma). Or perhaps they could add a reliever to bolster the bullpen. Or they could look for another hitter to accompany Berkman.

Of course, the flip side to this logic is the theory that the A’s are merely one big hitter away from being a contender. And if that’s the case, why not just dump a truckload of money on Dunn and pencil him in at DH? The big question, I suppose, is whether one dominant hitter truly is enough to reverse the A’s offensive fortunes, or whether it will take multiple new additions. That’s something to ponder …

The Colorado Rockies also are pursuing Berkman, according to the Denver Post. So if the A’s failed to sign Berkman, who turns 35 in February, it stands to reason their interest in Dunn could escalate. But they would also face competition for him, which could drive his price up more. The White Sox and Cubs reportedly like Dunn.

At any rate, the A’s immediate decisions involve their 10 players up for arbitration. DH/outfielder Jack Cust and outfielder Travis Buck are both strong candidates to be non-tendered. But the most compelling decision comes at third base, where it’s unlikely that Kevin Kouzmanoff and Edwin Encarnacion both will be kept. Encarnacion hit for more power last year but would probably be more costly, as he made more money in 2010. Kouzmanoff has the better glove but was a bit disappointing offensively last season.

–Lastly, Sports Illustrated came up with a fun top 10 list involving the greatest sports dynasties that never happened. They considered teams who won a single world championship but seemed destined to win more. The Bash Brother-era A’s checked in at No. 10, while the 1970’s Raiders ranked No. 8. Check it out