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A's to lean on solid core heading into 2014

With most key players returning next season, Oakland eyes another division title

OAKLAND -- Past the disappointment of another Game 5 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs is a highly accomplished season built by the low-budget A's.

A year after taking home 94 wins, the A's came away with 96 victories in 2013, along with another division crown. And they see no reason why they can't tally just as many next year.

That's because little turnover is expected this winter with so many players under club control. Here's a breakdown of all the pieces in play entering the offseason:

Contract issues

Free agents: Right-handed pitchers Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour

Eligible for arbitration: Right-handed pitchers Jesse Chavez, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Neshek ; left-handed pitchers Jerry Blevins ; outfielders Josh Reddick, Seth Smith ; infielders Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Daric Barton, Scott Sizemore ; catcher John Jaso

Club options: Outfielders Coco Crisp ($7.5 million, with a $1 million buyout), Chris Young ($11 million, $1.5 million buyout); left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson ($8 million, $1.5 million buyout); catcher Kurt Suzuki ($8.5 million, $650,000 buyout)

Non-tender possibilities: Barton, Rodriguez, Neshek, Sizemore

Position-by-position breakdown

Catcher: The A's enter the offseason carrying four catchers, but that number will more than likely slim to three by the time camp opens, since Suzuki's hefty $8.5 million option isn't expected to be picked up. Oakland's brain trust has always envisioned Derek Norris as an everyday player, but the platoon may very well remain intact behind the plate again with left-handed hitters Jaso and Stephen Vogt sticking around.

Jaso is expected to make a full recovery from a July concussion that kept him off the field for the entire second half. If he's healthy, Vogt would be the odd man out and begin the year at Triple-A.

First base: Like Norris, the A's believe Moss has the potential to be an everyday player. But Nate Freiman hit left-handers well this year, so it's very possible they stick with a platoon here, too. Barton also remains in the mix, though the A's could opt to part ways with the first baseman by non-tendering him.

Second base: The cast of characters here will look familiar, with platoon duo Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard coming back. Sizemore, who missed each of the last two seasons because of a knee injury, could be a wild card, but the A's will first have to decide whether he's a risk worth taking again. Otherwise, they can non-tender him.

Also look for Lowrie to get in work at second base during camp, with one of baseball's top prospects, Addison Russell, seemingly not far off from a Major League callup. Beane said Russell will begin the season in either Double-A Midland or Triple-A Sacramento.

Third base: There's no doubt who the A's will count on to lock down the hot corner. Josh Donaldson is coming off an outstanding breakthrough season, one that points to continued success. Defensively sound at third base and consistent at the plate, Donaldson looks like the long-term answer at third base this club has been searching for since Eric Chavez's healthy days.

Shortstop: Outside of the re-signing of Colon, acquiring Lowrie from the Astros in February proved to be the A's best decision last offseason. Though initially expected to play all around the infield, Lowrie stuck at shortstop, and that's where he figures to stay until Russell is deemed big league ready.

The A's can play Lowrie at second base, too, though his defense at both middle-infield spots is only average.

Outfield: One of the best defensive trios in baseball will return to Oakland in 2014. The A's view the decision to pick up Crisp's club option as a no-brainer, so he'll be back in center field sandwiched between Yoenis Cespedes in left and Reddick in right. Smith gives them another option in the outfield, as does prospect Michael Choice, since the A's aren't expected to give in to the $11 million price tag to bring back Young, who hit just .200 this year.

Designated hitter: The A's haven't employed a true designated hitter in quite some time, and they don't plan to in 2014 either. Smith figures to get the most at-bats at DH, and the A's are expected to reel in a right-handed bat to complement him. With Young likely departing, that bat could very well come from within via Choice.

Rotation: Sonny Gray turned heads in the postseason, thriving on a national stage a little more than two years after being drafted by the A's in the first round. They're seeing the makings of an ace, and Gray will surely be front and center in an enviable rotation next year that also includes Jarrod Parker and Anderson, who will return to a starting role.

Colon will likely be asked back, and if he agrees, the A's would retain the type of veteran leadership that's proven to be invaluable on such a youthful staff. If Colon, who turns 41 in May, opts to go elsewhere, the A's would do well by bringing in a veteran arm.

A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone will all be in the running for a rotation spot.

Bullpen: Oakland's relief corps will likely have to forge on without closer Balfour, who is expected to explore the free-agent market. That means Sean Doolittle or Ryan Cook could be closing in 2014.

The rest of the bullpen is expected to return, notably Dan Otero, Blevins and Chavez. Like most teams, the A's will add an experienced reliever or two by Spring Training.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Bartolo Colon, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Grant Balfour, Kurt Suzuki, Sonny Gray, Coco Crisp