OAKLAND -- The A's exercised a $4.5 million option Monday to bring back closer Grant Balfour, but they watched shortstop Stephen Drew elect to become a free agent.

Drew will hit the open market Friday, but it doesn't mean his days with the A's are over. Assistant general manager David Forst said the team plans to continue negotiating with Drew on a potential new contract.

But Monday's news clearly defines the need for a shortstop as the A's primary task this offseason, as they fine-tune a roster that will look to defend the American League West title.

Drew, 29, proved a nice fit after coming over from Arizona in an Aug. 20 trade. But the free-agent market is believed to be light on quality infielders this winter, and Drew might be in high demand among teams looking for a shortstop.

Drew chose to get paid a $1.35 million buyout and become a free agent rather than give the A's a one-year club option at $10 million.

"I think Stephen liked it here, and we played very well once he joined the club," Forst said. "I think we have reason to be optimistic, but free agency has a way of changing the equation, so we'll pursue all of our options."

Drew's agent, Scott Boras, said he is open to negotiating with the A's, but his comments made it clear that Drew won't be returning to Oakland at a bargain price.

"There's only about five shortstops who offer that kind of offensive play," Boras said of Drew. "(The A's) don't have a lot of holes. Their payroll certainly allows for them to make (a competitive offer)."


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Drew is a good defender and has nice power for a shortstop. But he hit just .223 overall this season and was limited for much of the year as he recovered from a fractured ankle suffered in 2011.

Teams hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until 9:01 p.m. Friday, at which time players can start signing with other teams. Forst said the A's will look at trade possibilities, other free agents and their own internal shortstop choices even as they negotiate with Drew.

After the Oct. 20 trade of Cliff Pennington to Arizona, Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard are the A's leading in-house shortstop candidates. But neither has a proven track record.

The A's had interest in Toronto's Yunel Escobar before July's trade deadline, so don't be surprised if they're linked to him again this winter. The Blue Jays like A's left-hander Brett Anderson, and Oakland is known to have scouted some of Toronto's pitchers in the low minor leagues.

It seems unlikely the A's would trade Anderson for Escobar straight up.

The return of Balfour, 34, helps solidify the A's bullpen. He notched 24 saves this season and was expected to be retained.

The A's five free agents are Drew, pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon, outfielder Jonny Gomes and third baseman Brandon Inge. Gomes and McCarthy have expressed interest in returning.

  • Inge and right fielder Josh Reddick were named top-three finalists for Gold Glove awards. Winners will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

  • Colon is doing fine after being hit by a line drive while pitching in a Dominican Winter League game, according to his agent, Adam Katz. Colon will have five games remaining on his suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, and Katz declined to comment on whether he's had dialogue with the A's about a return.