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A's enter Meetings with more flexibility

A's enter Meetings with flexibility

OAKLAND -- Having made the first big splash of baseball's offseason with the blockbuster trade that brought them three-time All-Star Matt Holliday last month, the A's could very well follow that up by making the first big splash at the game's annual Winter Meetings next week in Las Vegas.

Oakland's highly public pursuit of shortstop Rafael Furcal, who visited the East Bay last week for a tour guided by general manager Billy Beane, has been dogged since the start of the open free-agency period, and it will surely continue at America's Playground.

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Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzler, told MLB.com on Monday that he was planning to leave the country Tuesday and won't return until right before the meetings, which run Dec. 8-11, concluding with the Rule 5 Draft.

Kinzler said the A's haven't yet presented him with a formal offer to Furcal, adding that "there's nothing really going on there right now," but that doesn't mean Oakland's interest has cooled.

And however Beane's pursuit of Furcal plays out figures to serve as Oakland's lead domino at the meetings. Despite having Bobby Crosby under contract for 2009 at $5.5 million, the A's are clearly looking to upgrade at shortstop -- with or without Furcal.

Beane, who does not discuss free agents as a matter of policy, said his agenda is virtually the same at every Winter Meetings.

"Whether you're looking at free agents or trades or both, the idea is to improve your club every winter," he said. "That never changes."

What has changed for the A's is the financial flexibility with which they'll arrive in Vegas. Although Holliday will make $13.5 million in the final year of his contract next season, Oakland, for the first time in the Beane era, has a considerable amount of cash available.

"It's not something we're used to, but it's something we've been working toward for the past year or so," Beane said. "When we traded Dan Haren and Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay [for prospects last winter], when we traded Rich [Harden] and Joe [Blanton], those things were done not just to replenish the farm system, which they did, but also to put us in the position we're in."

Several other teams are vying for the services of Furcal, who is said to have multiple offers on the table in the neighborhood of four years and $48 million, and if he lands elsewhere, the A's might look to land another free-agent shortstop such as Orlando Cabrera or Edgar Renteria.

Bringing in another shortstop would almost certainly serve as a precursor to a trade that sends Crosby elsewhere, but some form of resolution at the position won't mean the A's are done dealing.

Beane likely will look into adding some bullpen depth in Vegas, and he's said to be considering bringing back free-agent first baseman Jason Giambi. But any offer to Giambi likely wouldn't be extended until well after the Winter Meetings, at which Beane rarely does more than talk to teams and agents.

"I've been saying for years that it's a little bit of an exercise in futility in terms of actually getting something done," said the GM. "I'd say it's more of an information-gathering event, but it's not like we're not gathering information every day before and after the Winter Meetings.

"You can talk to anyone you want at any time these days. You don't need a big hotel and a Cirque de Soleil show to inspire you to make a deal."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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