The A's made a critical call with their third basemen Thursday night, tendering a contract to Kevin Kouzmanoff and deciding to let go Edwin Encarnacion.
Ultimately, however, they may have grander plans for the position.
Multiple reports Thursday suggested the A's are in heavy pursuit of free agent Adrian Beltre, though there were no indications a deal is imminent. Beltre told The Boston Globe that he's waiting out his options and prefers re-signing with the Red Sox, though he also told the paper he could sign a deal "right now if I wanted to." He didn't specify with which team that deal might be.
A's officials, who don't comment on free agents as a policy, declined to comment on Beltre.
Designated hitter Jack Cust, the A's leading home run hitter from 2007-09, also was not tendered a contract on the final day for teams to make offers for players eligible for arbitration, nor was outfielder Travis Buck. Cust, Buck and Encarnacion, who spent all of three weeks with the organization after being claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays, become free agents.
The A's did tender contracts to pitchers Dallas Braden, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler; outfielders Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney; and Kouzmanoff. That means all are under team control, and the A's will try to negotiate contracts with them and avoid the arbitration table.
ESPN Deportes reported Nov. 17 that the A's offered Beltre a five-year, $64 million deal. That offer hasn't been confirmed by anyone associated with the A's, and there were no signs then that a deal was in the making.
But it's clear the A's are casting their net wide to find ways to score more runs.
"We have some guys in mind that we think are fits for this team," A's assistant general manager David Forst said.
Cust's departure was no surprise considering the A's are making a major play for free agent Lance Berkman to be their new DH. Team officials had dinner with Berkman on Tuesday in Houston. It's believed the A's would consider Berkman on a one- or two-year deal, with an annual salary likely to be in the $7-8 million range.
That would leave the A's the financial flexibility to add another hitter. Berkman alone doesn't figure to cure an Oakland offense that's been among the majors' weakest in recent years.
Third base traditionally is a position where teams look for production. Kouzmanoff, who hit .247 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs last season, is better defensively than Encarnacion, surely a factor in the A's decision to keep him.
But it's still possible the A's could trade Kouzmanoff if they work a deal for Beltre.