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MLB’s `qualifying offer’ system qualifies as a mess for the A’s

Jon Lester will be pitching elsewhere in 2015 as a free agent, and the A's won't be getting any compensation for his departure as a free agent.

Jon Lester will be pitching elsewhere in 2015 as a free agent, and the A’s won’t be getting any compensation for his departure as a free agent.

While the Tigers have made a qualifying offer to their ace, Max Scherzer, and the Royals have made a qualifying offer to their ace, James Shields, the A’s have done no such thing with their ace, Jon Lester.

They haven’t done it with Jason Hammel, who isn’t an ace but who was very good after getting off to a rocky start with his new club.

The deadline is this evening, 9 p.m., and it won’t happen in either case.

Why? Well, baseball rules don’t allow it. The only players who can get qualifying offers are those who have been with their 2014 team for the entire season. In the case of Lester and Hammel, they came to the A’s in mid-season trades and aren’t eligible for a qualifying offer, which this season is pegged at $15.3 million.

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A’s could see all seven of their free agents gone in 2015

Starter Jon Lester is one of seven potential free agents the A's could see leave this off-season.

Starter Jon Lester is one of seven potential free agents the A’s could see leave this off-season.

Now that Madison Bumgarner is going to stop grabbing all the headlines, which should happen any day now, the clock is up and running on the 2015 season for the A’s, and for everyone else.

The A’s had visions that starter Jon Lester would have the same kind of impact on Oakland’s October as Bumgarner did for San Francisco’s. Lester, after all, had the second-best World Series ERA, 0.43, in history before Bumgarner’s MVP performance against the Royals lowered his career World Series ERA to 0.25, pushing Lester to third.

Now Lester is all but gone from the A’s. He said he loved his time in Oakland, and the A’s would like to have him back, but the money doesn’t work. Lester is going to get a contract in the range of $150 million from someone – the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Cubs lead the list of the usual suspects – that would all but break the bank in Oakland.

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A’s powering down as their season is winding down

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A's hitters.

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A’s hitters.

There are only so many ways to ask the A’s about their frustration level and if their supply of moxie evaporated at the end of July.

Oakland is simply not the same team it was six weeks ago.

For four months, Oakland had the best record in the game, the best run differential, the most runs scored and ranked in the top five in the fewest runs allowed.

The pitch has remained relatively constant, but all the other numbers have fallen off a cliff, mostly because the offense has gone from awesome to awful.

“We were one team for the better part of four months,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “Then for the last month and a half it’s been different.’’

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Norris gives up on home runs, but the hits are coming back

Derek Norris's home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

Derek Norris’s home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

A’s catcher Derek Norris was winged by a foul ball Tuesday and needed a few moments to shake it off, but he said afterward he was fine.

He also announced he’s no longer trying to hit home runs. He’s hit 10 this year, but none in his last 99 plate appearances.

His average had been sliding a bit as he got up in the desire to go deep. Since his last home run on Aug. 9, he’s averaged just .217 and his overall mark has slid from .299 to .277 entering play Wednesday.

“I’ve been swinging on `E’,’’ Norris said of his month-long homer drought. “I’m going to leave that to the other guys.’’

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A’s find some life and energy after long dry spell

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A's Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A’s Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

For five weeks, the A’s were performing a number straight out of Jackson Browne, Running On Empty.

They showed up daily at whatever ballpark was on the scheduled, convinced they were playing hard. But something was missing.

That something showed up again Saturday in a 4-3 walkoff win over Houston. The Coliseum crowd could sense it almost from the time Josh Donaldson led off the ninth inning with a single.

The A’s were down 3-1 at the time. In recent weeks, scaling Kilimanjaro was easier for the A’s by far than putting together a ninth-inning rally.

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A’s aren’t same as three months ago, but they need to be

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A's lately

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A’s lately

The A’s could get Coco Crisp and John Jaso back this weekend and Sean Doolittle back early next week.

When they do, the A’s will start looking a little more like themselves.

This team is not the team it was at the end of June.

Back then they were trotting out a three-catcher platoon, with Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt all major contributors. Yoenis Cespedes was in left field. Brandon Moss was at first base.

Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Brad Mills were all in the starting rotation.

With such a drastic makeover, it’s small wonder that the A’s aren’t playing like they did in April, May and June.

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Sogard still having trouble playing out of position at short

The transition from second to short for Eric Sogard hasn't been smooth.

The transition from second to short for Eric Sogard hasn’t been smooth.

The talk since spring training has been about the A’s depth.

It’s easy to see why Oakland wanted to get players like Craig Gentry and Nick Punto and Sam Fuld into the fold. They can play multiple positions, and when injuries crop up, the A’s would be covered.

Not so much right now, though. Starting shortstop Jed Lowrie is on the disabled list with a broken right finger. His backup, Punto, is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

That means second baseman Eric Sogard and minor league callup Andy Parrino have to play short. Sogard, the veteran, gets the bulk of the playing time against right-handed pitchers, but he’s not the player at shortstop that Lowrie is.

Lowrie is not Ozzie Smith. But his defense has been better this year, even if his range isn’t terrific. He can get a ball and start a double play. He makes some errors, but who doesn’t?

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A’s experiencing some of the problems of success

There are problems with success, as the A’s are discovering.

Win consistently, and the expectation is that you will continue to do so.

Best the best and playing at less than your best level raises eyebrows.

And in the big leagues, have the best record and you’ve got virtually no chance of claiming a player on waivers.

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A’s: Lowrie’s productivity parallels 2013, except for average

A's Jed Lowrie's runs, RBIs and doubles are close to 2013, even if his average is way, way down.

A’s Jed Lowrie’s runs, RBIs and doubles are close to 2013, even if his average is way, way down.

This has been a tough stretch for Jed Lowrie.

For the longest time his luck at the plate was so bad that manager Bob Melvin compared it to Josh Reddick’s, and Reddick is notorious for hitting balls well that wind up being caught.

Things may be starting to change for Lowrie, although he lost a single and a possible RBI when Austin Jackson made a tremendous diving catch against Lowrie in the fourth inning of Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Tigers.

Lowrie caught a bit of a break when a soft two-out flare to left field fell in for him to bring in the A’s first runs in the sixth.

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A’s: Jed Lowrie hitting in tough luck; Josh Donaldson not hitting

#A's Jed Lowrie is just waiting for his luck to turn.

#A’s Jed Lowrie is just waiting for his luck to turn.

Jed Lowrie drove in the A’s only run Tuesday with a sacrifice fly.

Beyond that, the Oakland shortstop went hitless in four at-bats and is now hitless in his last 20 at-bats.

Josh Donaldson went hitless in all six of his plate trips Tuesday for the A’s and is now hitless in his last 21 at-bats.

There is a difference, though.

Lowrie seems to be hitting in tough luck. Donaldson is in one of those hitless streaks that batters get into from time to time when it seems as if they might never emerge.

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