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A's still have plenty of work to do this offseason

Signing Butler helps, but club must improve offensively up the middle
MLB.com @castrovince

A progressive organization such as the A's and the baseball dinosaur that is the designated hitter don't necessarily seem to mesh, but Oakland did what it had to do in landing a right-handed bat in Billy Butler. His three-year, $30 million contract addresses at least one element of the offensive funk that swallowed a 2014 season of high hopes.

Clearly, then, the A's are pushing forward, not scaling back, for 2015. But who is going to join Butler in wearing those white cleats?

A progressive organization such as the A's and the baseball dinosaur that is the designated hitter don't necessarily seem to mesh, but Oakland did what it had to do in landing a right-handed bat in Billy Butler. His three-year, $30 million contract addresses at least one element of the offensive funk that swallowed a 2014 season of high hopes.

Clearly, then, the A's are pushing forward, not scaling back, for 2015. But who is going to join Butler in wearing those white cleats?

At minimum, the A's still need a long-term option for an everyday shortstop, and another power bat wouldn't hurt either. You think maybe the Cubs' Addison Russell and Boston's Yoenis Cespedes are available in the trade market?

What, too soon?

All right, no more joking around, because the American League West is serious business.

The Angels have a lot of big contracts that might prevent them from significantly upgrading a rotation hit hard in the health department in the second half last year, but they've still got the goods to contend. The Mariners look poised to make a climb, particularly if they get the right-handed-hitting help they need. The Astros are getting better, and the Rangers should be better, if only because their luck with health can't possibly be any worse than it was in '14. So the A's, clearly, have their work cut out for them, and the post-Trade Deadline slide this past season was a major missed opportunity.

But that doesn't mean the A's, on the heels of three consecutive postseason appearances, are going to retreat. Vice president and general manager Billy Beane has been the first to acknowledge that windows to win with a certain core don't stay open forever, but the Athletics' window still exists.

"There are a lot of things we like about the group we have coming back," Beane told reporters, "and we do want to respect that."

And so arrived Butler. His .912 career OPS against left-handers makes him -- at bare minimum -- an attractive platoon partner with John Jaso at DH, or Butler could make Jaso outright expendable trade bait.

Also, don't overlook Butler's ability to play first base on occasion. The Royals liked what they got from him there in place of an injured Eric Hosmer this past summer, and staying involved with the flow of the game seemed to be good for Butler's bat at that time, too. The A's were in such a scramble for a right-handed-hitting first baseman at times last year that they had Alberto Callaspo playing out of position. That sort of thing won't have to happen anymore.

But what about the rest of the roster? The A's have made it pretty clear they're not moving Josh Donaldson, who is so important to them offensively and defensively. And Sonny Gray is equally untouchable. But we know Beane isn't shy about moving major assets if he thinks it will help the big picture, and so Jeff Samardzija remains an interesting trade chip before his free-agent walk year. The same goes for Scott Kazmir, and given his past injury issues, perhaps this is the time to sell high on him.

If the A's dangle either of those starters, the return would be limited by the contractual-control aspect of the equation. But at minimum, one would think the A's could solve their unsightly situation up the middle.

As it stands, the best internal option for the shortstop spot is Andy Parrino, whose defense is a plus. In the right lineup, you can take the offensive sacrifice that would come with that arrangement, but I'm not sure the A's have the right lineup for that, especially with second base -- as currently constructed -- another subpar offensive setup with Nick Punto and Eric Sogard. Stephen Drew might be a realistic free-agent option, but he, too, is a plus defender with little to offer offensively, so the dollar outlay -- short-term though it may be -- might not be worth it.

So I'm certain the A's are exploring every option in the trade market. The White Sox are probably going to want pieces that are controllable beyond this year if they move Alexei Ramirez, so a proposal centered around Ramirez for, say, Samardzija, would obviously have to involve other pieces on both sides. More realistic trade options are inherently less attractive ones offensively: They could bring back old buddy Cliff Pennington, or they could work something out for a youngster like Didi Gregorius or Eugenio Suarez. The A's know as well as anybody that controllable young talent is the lifeblood of an organization, particularly one with payroll restrictions.

Even with those real restrictions, the move I'm not totally counting out for the A's -- especially given their out-of-nowhere signing of Cespedes in 2012 -- is a Yasmany Tomas deal, but only if the 24-year-old Cuban slugger takes his chances on a short-term deal in order to hit stateside free agency more quickly once he establishes himself. That remains a possibility at the moment.

For now, it's good to know the A's are going for it, in some measure. The Butler signing assured us of that, because there's no other reason for this club to go after an established bat with limited positional flexibility.

It's a challenging offseason for the A's. The division remains difficult, and the loss of Farhan Zaidi to the Dodgers as Los Angeles' new general manager forces a front-office adjustment in Oakland. But the Athletics have long done their best to work the margins of the roster, and that will continue in the coming weeks and months.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Oakland Athletics, Billy Butler