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12/07/09 9:50 PM EST
Beane explores A's short-term options
Oakland GM scours free-agent market for veteran infielders
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you're a team looking to make a major upgrade this offseason, the current free-agent market may not be for you. But if you're the Oakland A's, a market dominated by midlevel veterans could be perfect for Billy Beane.
The Oakland general manager could find himself in position to be very selective for the type of interim reinforcements atop his "get" list.Beane identified the left side of the A's infield as his primary target, and also made it plain that he regards free agents as more likely to hit the bull's-eye than trades. At third base, where Eric Chavez's ongoing health concerns mandate insurance, and at shortstop, where young Cliff Pennington is the incumbent, a long-term answer is intriguing. But Beane would be comfortable with veteran, temporary bridges to more permanent solutions. "A younger third baseman would be our first choice," Beane said as the sun fell on the first day of baseball's Winter Meetings, "but if that's something we aren't able to do, we'd consider short-term options." Ditto at shortstop. Beane last week swung a deal with the Cubs that included versatile infielder Aaron Miles, but he is regarded as more qualified to play on the other side of the bag. "We could use another infielder who could play [shortstop]," Beane said. "That's an area we may have to fill with a veteran guy." Thus, Oakland has two spots available to "veteran" and "short-term" guys. And the free-agent rolls teem with guys who fill that description: shortstops Ramon Martinez, Juan Uribe and Jamey Carroll, plus third basemen Troy Glaus, Mark Loretta and Fernando Tatis. No wonder then that Beane came here with an agenda focused on talking to agents, rather than other general managers. "We did not come with the idea of being aggressive in the trade market," Beane said. "I still anticipate having more conversations with agents, inquiring about short-term or midlevel free agents. "That seems to be a preferable way to go," he said, "so we can preserve our young players," who would otherwise be subjects in any trades. "So we have some [free-agent] guys reaching out to us, and we'll schedule [talks with] those afterward. Here, we'll see agents of players we have interest in." Since he is already scheduling post-Meetings talks with free agents, Beane clearly does not anticipate departing here with any needs crossed out on his checklist. However, biding his time until Saturday's deadline for clubs to tender contracts to unsigned veterans under their control is not part of his tactic. Beane isn't a subscriber to the popular expectation that a large number of veterans will not receive contract offers and become free agents, swelling those ranks. "I've never held out a huge amount of hope that there is a potentially larger pool out there," he said. "It never turns into the market that we anticipate. People expect more than what is usually delivered in terms of available players." Part posturing? Certainly: If the grapevine detects and spreads your interest in a potentially non-tendered player, his club has incentive to sign him then try to deal him to you -- for a price. Part lowered expectations? That, too: You would much rather be surprised by who becomes available, then become frustrated by who does not. As he settles in for more exploratory conversations, Beane has the luxury of reality on his side. A strong American League West Division with one ruler (Angels) and two oncoming throne-aspirants (Rangers, Mariners) may not seem like much of an ally, yet ... "There is no sense of anxiety about acquiring what we don't have, because there is plenty we don't have," Beane said. "We are realistic about where we are, hence the desire to hold onto our young players. "We aren't looking for that one final piece to put us over the top, but want to develop new pieces internally to put us within that one player. And, certainly, there are guys who short-term could help in our development." Randy Newman sang about "Short People." Beane strolls the hotel lobbies here humming about "short-term people."