OAKLAND -- Billy Beane rarely gets to enjoy a quiet winter, but the A's general manager is finally primed to do so, while already equipped with a strong foundation he plans to use in an effort to build upon a surprising 94-win season.
Beane's American League West champion squad, which dropped the AL Division Series to the Tigers in five games, will largely remain intact, and he believes the majority of moves made in the coming months will be additions, rather than subtractions.
It's a nice change of pace for these A's, who have undergone countless makeovers in past offseasons, the most recent which brought about the trades of three All-Star pitchers. Those deals were met with unkind reception, yet the return goods proved significant to their storybook 2012 campaign and are vital to their ability to remain a contender.
With that in mind, here's an early look at where the A's stand heading into the offseason ...
Free agents: OF Jonny Gomes; RHPs Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy; INF Brandon Inge
Eligible for arbitration: RHPs Jeremy Accardo, Joey Devine, Pat Neshek; LHPs Jerry Blevins, Dallas Braden; OF Seth Smith; INFs Daric Barton, Cliff Pennington, Adam Rosales; C George Kottaras
Club options: RHP Grant Balfour ($4.5 million, with a $350,000 buyout)
Mutual options: INF Stephen Drew ($10 million, with a $1.35 million buyout)
Non-tender possibilities: Accardo, Braden, Devine
Position by position breakdown
Catcher: The A's like the catching tandem of Kottaras and Derek Norris and are expected to stick with the pair moving forward. Norris, still just 23, figures to get the bulk of the playing time, as the club envisioned the day it traded away one of the game's best game-callers in Kurt Suzuki. Norris, like Suzuki did while in Oakland, has already established good relationships with the pitching staff, and continued work -- both behind the plate and at it -- should only lead to improvement.
First base: Though most teams don't head into Spring Training boasting confidence in forging a platoon at this position, the A's will likely do just that, considering what they got out of their own this season in power duo Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, both of whom are under club control. Both held their own defensively, minus one or two lapses, making Daric Barton's presence -- Barton is considered the strongest defensive option -- rather unnecessary, especially when coupled with his ongoing offensive struggles. All three players will be out of options next spring, and unless Barton dazzles in camp, he figures to be the odd man out.
Second base: This was Jemile Weeks' job to lose going into 2012 and it's suddenly his to gain again, following his August demotion to Triple-A after an inconsistent sophomore campaign. But the task won't be easy, considering the ease with which Pennington handled the position following a move from shortstop. Should Drew go elsewhere this winter, Pennington would probably return to shortstop and Weeks would be left in a battle for an everyday job at second with Scott Sizemore, who is also in the third-base mix with Josh Donaldson. But if Drew returns, Pennington holds the edge here, and Weeks' future is only further clouded.
Third base: Josh Donaldson's progression at the hot corner proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season, and his work there has him primed for continued playing time in 2013. But he'll likely have competition in Sizemore, who appeared geared for a breakout season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in February. Sizemore will enter camp 100 percent healthy, and his talent isn't forgotten, though it could also translate into an everyday job at his natural second base position, depending on the shortstop picture. Inge, meanwhile, likely will not be returning.
Shortstop: A $10 million contract is a steep price to pay for any player in Oakland, but that's the amount the A's will be giving Drew if both sides decide to activate his mutual option. The A's could decline their part of Drew's option and attempt to resign him by way of a smaller free-agent deal, though that could prove difficult with agent Scott Boras standing in the way.
Either way, should Drew return, he would retain his role at shortstop and, in turn, create heavy competition around him at second and third base. His departure would lead to the return of Pennington at shortstop.
Designated hitter: Long considered an area of concern by the A's before this year, they've found comfort in the competent duo of Smith and Gomes, who combined for plenty power from the position this season. Smith will be back and, if Gomes has it his way, so will he. The A's appear confident in making that happen.
Outfield: The A's are no longer playing musical chairs here, after piecing together one of the best defensive trios in baseball this year, with left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and right fielder Josh Reddick sandwiching center fielder Coco Crisp. The A's would be hard-pressed to break up this group, though they could potentially use Crisp as trade bait -- he'll make $7 million next year -- should they feel the need to upgrade elsewhere, while allowing Cespedes to return to center field.
Rotation: Youngsters Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone emerged as major contributors this season, and A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily showed enough promise to do the same next year. Lefty Brett Anderson figures to steer this youthful ship, and he could get help in doing so from free agent McCarthy, who is a strong possibility to return -- unlike Colon, who hasn't even been in contact with the A's front office since the beginning of his drug suspension. Oakland also boasts depth in Travis Blackley, who will be out of options come spring, and prospect Brad Peacock. Fellow prospect Sonny Gray, the A's first-round pick in 2011, could also enter this mix.
Bullpen: Oakland's relief corps was one of the best in the game this year, and it figures to maintain that tag, with all of its members set to return, including Balfour, whose club option will assuredly be picked up.