OAKLAND -- In the last two seasons, the A's won the American League West title but failed to move past the first round of the playoffs, losing Game 5 of the division series to the Detroit Tigers.
What the A's need to do in building their 2014 team is figure out how to bridge that gap, and it starts now, with the free agency season upon us.
"Typically, we are not major players in free agency,'' A's general manager Billy Beane said. "That being said, there are players we will be looking at with the idea that we can be more productive with the right move.''
Oakland almost certainly will lose closer Grant Balfour. The A's historically have not been willing to pay a premium for a closer, and the club has strong candidates for that job in lefty Sean Doolittle and right-handers Ryan Cook and Dan Otero.
The club wants to keep right-hander Bartolo Colon, and the 18-game winner has said he'd like to come back at age 40. But 18 wins makes him a tempting target on the free agent market. While the A's showed loyalty in bringing him back with a $3 million contract after his performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2012, if his value rockets to $12 million or $15 million, it's not clear if Colon would be loyal enough to continue wearing green and gold.
As it stands now, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes' $10.5 million contract is the biggest single outlay on the A's 2014 payroll, although that could change if Coco Crisp gets his wish of a contract extension. The club is picking up his option for $7.5 million, and they are talking about giving Crisp, 33, an extension as he is coming off his first 20-homer, 20-steals season.
No position is crying out for improvement with the possible exception of second base, where Eric Sogard hit .266 in 130 games and Alberto Callaspo hit .270 with five homers and 22 RBI in 50 games after being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline.
The A's won't go after New York Yankees free agent second baseman Robinson Cano, who reportedly is looking for the biggest contract in major league history.
There aren't many other potential free agent second basemen who are appealing, so if the A's want to upgrade at that position, they might have to trade for a veteran starter such as Brandon Phillips of the Reds, Dan Uggla of the Braves or the Brewers' Rickie Weeks, whose brother Jemile was once the second baseman of the future in Oakland and who is still in the organization.
The A's could move shortstop Jed Lowrie to second and scour free agency for a shortstop. But the players who could be the most impactful, perhaps Jhonny Peralta and ex-Oaklander Stephen Drew of the Red Sox, are too pricey.
"We haven't signed the highest-profile guys," Beane said. "But the guys we've added generally have made an impact."
Balfour (after the 2010 season), Colon (after 2011), Cespedes (after 2011) and current Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes (after 2011) are recent free agent signees who have paid off for the A's.
As for the pitching rotation, the A's have a full contingent coming back, even if Colon signs elsewhere. Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, Tommy Milone and Brett Anderson give the A's six candidates for five spots, so trading one of them, possibly the oft-injured Anderson, is a possibility. The Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to an Anderson deal in the past.
The outfield (Cespedes, Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith) is full even with the A's deciding not to pick up the option for Chris Young, who now is free to strike his own deal. Former first-round draft pick Michael Choice could be Young's replacement.
The infield has no evident openings at third base (Josh Donaldson), shortstop (Lowrie) or first base (Brandon Moss), and the A's are deep in catchers with Stephen Vogt, John Jaso and Derek Norris.
Ryan Cook, pictured, is one of several candidates to assume the closer role for the A's if Grant Balfour departs as expected.