OAKLAND -- The creative wizards who occupy Oakland's front office are in for a busy winter following yet another premature postseason exit and uncertain future. The A's seemingly have plenty of pieces to remain relevant in 2015, but competing in the mighty American League West is no easy task, so who do they keep, who do they let go, and who do they add?
The club is entertaining at least a partial rebuild, with several players already expected to be on the move via free agency, while others represent prime trade bait at peak value. The Hot Stove season is officially underway, now that the World Series has concluded, setting in motion what should be an intriguing A's offseason.
The A's employ a slew of free agents who can officially begin negotiating with other clubs on Tuesday, nearly all of whom are expected to do so. Among those not expected back are starters Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, outfielder Jonny Gomes and infielder Alberto Callaspo.
Right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson is likely destined for a bigger paycheck elsewhere, as is shortstop Jed Lowrie, who did not receive a $15.3 million qualifying offer.
Perhaps the free agent with the greatest chance of returning to Oakland for the 2015 season is Geovany Soto, who impressed down the stretch as an alternate right-handed-hitting catching option to Derek Norris, who endured a troublesome defensive year. But with Stephen Vogt also returning, and John Jaso conceivably still in the mix if he opts to catch again, will there be room for Soto? Maybe not, but the A's have also made a recent habit out of collecting catchers.
The only A's player carrying around an option for 2015 will assuredly be back, barring a trade. Veteran infielder Nick Punto's $2.75 million option already vested based on days spent on the active roster this season.
The A's have no everyday shortstop on their roster should Lowrie depart. Former top prospect Addison Russell was long considered Lowrie's replacement in 2015 before he was traded to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal, and his supposed heir apparent, Daniel Robertson, is not considered a big league option until at least 2016. The lone in-house candidate is defensive-minded Andy Parrino, who has consistently struggled at the plate in the Majors.
That makes up only half of Oakland's middle-infield concerns, with second base reflecting a potential area for upgrade, too. Along with Punto, the A's do expect to retain Eric Sogard, both of whom provide excellent defense, but offense has been lacking at this position for quite some time.
The lineup, more than anything, however, could use a powered right-handed bat -- which went missing when Yoenis Cespedes was traded to Boston for Lester at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The anticipated exits of Lester and Hammel open up a pair of rotation spots. Rehabbing starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin will likely be ready to fill them at some point in 2015, but not at the start, so the A's will be on the lookout to fill out a staff that already includes Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Samardzija -- the latter two of which could become trade bait should the A's take on some form of a rebuilding project. The bullpen, as always, will likely be injected with new arms as well.
Should the A's attempt to swing a deal for a shortstop, frequent trade partner Arizona happens to employ plenty, including former Oakland infielder Cliff Pennington. The White Sox could make Alexei Ramirez available, and the Tigers' Eugenio Suarez could be had for a small return.
At second base, the A's have long eyed the versatile Ben Zobrist. His team option for 2015 was picked up by the Rays, but he could be had in a trade.
Oakland already has a left-handed power bat in Brandon Moss, but the Blue Jays are expected to deal veteran Adam Lind this winter, a potentially intriguing name for the A's.
The A's could have quite a few if they find themselves in rebuilding mode. Either way, Samardzija and Kazmir will undoubtedly reel in dozens of calls from potential dealers unwilling to shell out hundreds of millions to frontline free-agent pitchers like Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields. Other possible trade chips include Coco Crisp and Jaso and, if the A's decided to really unload in favor of a replenished system, Josh Donaldson and Sean Doolittle -- though the club appears reluctant to move either of these club-controlled All-Stars, at least for now.
General manager Billy Beane could pounce at any moment, and his first big move of the offseason will likely dictate the direction of his club, in limbo after three consecutive postseason appearances.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.