I'm wondering how you evaluate the A's attitude toward Rajai Davis and Kevin Kouzmanoff, who may both represent a larger problem. Offensively, neither provided quite enough to be a starter on a contending team, but it's fair to describe both as defensive pluses, and there's no obvious way to upgrade. Do you think either or both will be back as 2011 starters?
-- Andrew O., New York City
I think both will be back, but I can't say for certain both will be starting on Opening Day. Unless the A's go with what would be a surprising decision to non-tender his contract, Kouzmanoff will again be at third base next year. He's not making a ton of money to begin with ($3.1 million) and isn't expected to receive much of a raise by way of arbitration this year. Plus, the A's are not about to pay Adrian Beltre -- who already turned down a deal with Oakland last offseason -- the big bucks he'll demand, and there are not many other worthy options at the hot corner available through free agency.
That being said, Kouzmanoff stays, and he starts. You're not the only one who's worried about his offensive numbers, though. I think Kouz would be the first to say he wasn't very satisfied with his 2010 season, which saw his batting average (.247) drop for a fourth consecutive year. His home run and RBI totals were also down, as was his OPS. However, I think given an offensive addition in the middle of the lineup, the A's could slide Kouzmanoff to the sixth spot, an area much more suitable for his abilities. In that situation, I think he could create some consistency at the plate -- a facet of his game which was lacking this year.
As for Davis, there's no doubt what his presence -- mainly in the form of speed -- has done for this injury-marred A's team over the last couple of years. If the A's brass has it their way, though, I say we see Chris Carter in left, Coco Crisp in center and Ryan Sweeney -- or an offensive upgrade -- in right field on Opening Day next year. That leaves Davis out of the starting mix, but I do think he's a high-quality bench player who has the ability to provide the A's with a late-inning spark and/or a solid backup option. His offensive numbers were respectable this season (.284 average, 52 RBIs) and his running ways (50 stolen bases) were impressive, but the A's need power in their outfield. Given its history with health, though, Oakland may have no other choice but to throw the arbitration-eligible Davis -- who made $1.35 million this year -- out there on Opening Day.
What are some realistic scenarios where Billy Beane can upgrade the lineup through free-agent acquisitions? Carl Crawford is a long shot, but what about Jayson Werth?
-- David N., Santa Monica, Calif.
You're right. Crawford is very much a long shot and has already been linked to pinstripe rumors. If -- and likely when -- he hits the free agent market, he'll be seen by many clubs as the most well-rounded position player available. Only one other outfielder will be deemed as having similar value, and that's Werth.
The 31-year-old Werth represents the quintessential corner-outfield power the A's need. He sees more pitches than any other hitter in baseball, and he rewards his own patience with plenty of pop, as seen by the 27 home runs, 85 RBIs and .532 slugging percentage he compiled during the regular season this year. Even more, he fits right into the club's aggressive baserunning philosophy and would immediately offer the lineup plenty of leverage.
But, just like any other attractive free agent, Werth is expected to come with a hefty price tag -- super-agent Scott Boras is hoping to land his client a multi-year deal worth upwards of $20 million per year. The A's certainly have a lot of money coming off the books this offseason, thanks to Ben Sheets' $10 million and Eric Chavez's $12 million option that won't be picked up. Even still, that doesn't mean they can necessarily afford Werth, who will surely receive plenty of offers. Beane isn't afraid of Boras, though, so trying isn't out of the question.
One significant hurdle for Beane this winter, however, is influencing free agents such as Werth to come play in the aged Oakland Coliseum, which has deterred a handful of players from signing with the A's in the past. Thus, Werth -- like Crawford -- is a long shot, but one worth fighting for in order to upgrade a weak lineup, which may have to be enhanced via trade.
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Any chance of the A's re-signing Justin Duchscherer? I realize that pitching is hardly a problem area for the A's. But he would come at a very low price and, if healthy (I have faith that he will be), could potentially round out the best rotation in all of baseball along with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden.
-- Jackson O., San Jose, Calif.
I, too, have faith that Duchscherer will be healthy next season -- but not so much in the A's willingness to bring him on board again. I think he'll be a great addition to another team's rotation if given the right opportunity, and the A's have plenty other viable options for the fifth starter spot. Duchscherer is indeed inexpensive, but so are Vin Mazzaro, Josh Outman and Tyson Ross -- three guys who will be at the front of the race in camp. Like you said, pitching isn't of worry this offseason, so it's a perfect time for the A's to peacefully part ways with Duke, who will turn 33 in November.
If Michael Taylor has a real great Spring Training next year, do you think he'll be playing in the Coliseum on April 1? And where will he play if he makes the team?
-- Joe M., Alameda, Calif.
My immediate answer is, "no," but a lot can change between now and April -- especially in Oakland. Taylor's obviously been regarded as the organization's next great thing, alongside Carter, but I think it would serve him well to start the year at Triple-A again. He's tearing up the Arizona Fall League right now -- as of Friday morning, he was batting .308 with two homers and six RBIs in seven games for Phoenix -- but that doesn't exactly wipe away the up-and-down regular season he endured with Sacramento.
The A's already have a handful of outfielders and could very well add to that mix by way of free agency or trade, so that doesn't exactly bode well for Taylor's chances of breaking camp with the club. That doesn't mean he won't get an opportunity to compete for a big league job, though, and I would highly suspect that -- if held off the Opening Day roster -- it won't be long before he gets the call.
Rumor has it that the A's are dropping the black alternate jersey and bringing back a yellow alternate. Any truth behind that?
-- Sven N., Alameda, Calif.
An A's official says that, at this point, no announcement has been planned for a color change. However, I've heard the same rumors and wouldn't be surprised if they make the switch based on fan reaction received from the club's June "Turn Back the Clock Night," which had A's players donning the memorable 1970s yellow unis reminiscent of the "Swingin' A's." I'm not so sure how the players would react to a color alteration given their love for the black, but the yellow ones get my vote and could draw heavy fan interest at the Coliseum.
I'm an A's fan, but I kind of want to see the Giants play the Rangers in the World Series. Is that so wrong?
-- Michael R., Arlington, Va.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to see good baseball. You can be a fan of the A's and a fan of the game at the same time. And being a fan of the game means wanting to see a Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee matchup.