LAS VEGAS -- Leaning heavily on what he admitted is a "convenient policy" against discussing free agents, A's general manager Billy Beane on Monday evening declined to shoot down a variety of rumors involving his club at the Winter Meetings. The most frequent speculation has Beane backing off in his pursuit of free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal and being interested in free-agent lefty Randy Johnson. "I wish I didn't have this policy," he told a small group of Bay Area-based reporters while playfully holding court in his suite at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. "Otherwise I could chat about these free agents with you all day. ... I wish I had something exciting for you guys, but I don't."
Anyone who can read between the lines a little bit, however, can safely assume that adding Furcal and Johnson isn't out of the realm of possibility. Furcal's agent said his client turned down a four-year offer for between $35 and $40 million from Oakland. The offer was said to be a take-it-or-leave it deal, but when asked if he would characterize the Furcal negotiations as officially dead, Beane said, "There'd be no use in doing that." One of Johnson's agents recently said the A's were among the teams interested in the 45-year-old's services, and when asked if he'd heard any ridiculous rumors, Beane said A's assistant GM David Forst had been keeping him updated on everything out there. Johnson is said to be looking for a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $10 million. "Nothing too bad," Beane said. "I haven't heard anything ridiculous. Have you?" Pressed on the Johnson issue, Beane was reminded that he'd said in November that he was "highly, highly unlikely" to add a free-agent starting pitcher. His response appeared to be the strongest indication yet that the reported interest in the Big Unit, a Bay Area native who will enter the 2009 season five wins shy of 300 for his career, might be real. "I guess maybe what I was addressing was the idea of [adding] a guy who was just an innings guy, a filler, a guy that maybe some people view as just filling the back of the rotation," he said. "If we were interested in a pitcher, it would be someone considered an upgrade, like, 'This guy can fit anywhere in the rotation.' "And any guys that we're considering wouldn't be guys that we're looking at locking up long-term." Asked about his general approach to this year's Meetings, Beane reiterated that strengthening his club via free agency remains more likely than doing so with trades. "My general statement going into these Meetings is, at times we've been pretty proactive, but I'm not sure we might not be more reactive this time," he said. "We're not anxious to move any of our young players, and I think I said at the end of the season that most of our additions would come vis a vis free agency, and I think we're still of that mind-set. "We've had one meeting here regarding a trade situation, but it's more of a getting-to-know-each-other thing -- sort of renewing our vows with each other. We have some other meetings planned. Preliminary talks, I guess, is what you'd call it." As for free agents, Beane cautioned against assuming that he's targeting specific positions. "We continue to have some conversations with some selected guys, and there's a few select players that might fit, all at different positions," he said. "I don't think we're going out and saying, 'Hey, we're looking for this position,' and just going down the list. I think we're more looking at select players. One could be a pitcher, another could be at another position. "It's been well documented that this is a pretty slow-developing free-agent market right now. There might be some good opportunities, not necessarily in areas you thought you'd be addressing, but because of the caliber of the player it's something you might be interested in later on in the winter." That comment prompted a question about Oakland's outfield. Matt Holliday, acquired in a November trade, is slated to start in left; Ryan Sweeney has been anointed by Beane as the starting center fielder; and there are several promising young candidates -- Travis Buck being tops among them, it appears -- to start in right. "Regardless of position, if we think it's a good add, we wouldn't say, 'Oh, we've got a bunch of outfielders,'" Beane said. "If the player's value is worth whatever we'd have to pay or trade for him, then we would. We probably, from an offensive standpoint, have a lot of areas we can improve on. We're not going to limit ourselves to a position." What might limit the A's to an extent is the economic climate of the country. As the result of several trades that trimmed payroll considerably over the past year, Oakland entered the offseason with unprecedented financial flexibility. Beane said that flexibility "is shrinking." "I can only speak for our club, and we've had to revise our revenue projections as the winter's gone along," he added. "It's a fact. Just pick up a newspaper. And the people who are losing their jobs are also people who come to baseball games. ... We're sort of fortunate that we had the flexibility because we can kind of absorb the projected reduction. Myself and [team president] Mike Crowley have had to sit down on at least three occasions this winter to take a look at things a couple of times to look at where we're headed. "We're spending every day talking about new American institutions needing financial help from the government. This is a unique environment for everyone, and it's impacted everyone in this room. So to think that it wouldn't have an impact beyond this room is crazy. "It's not GM-speak. It's fact." A while later, though, Beane did launch into a somewhat confusing little GM-speak jag after being asked if he'd play along, Vegas-style, and set odds on the A's making a major move while in town. "We didn't necessarily come with a set agenda," he said. "We're more in a position to kind of see what's out there and react. It sound sort of counterintuitive, but we're in a good position to react to some opportunities, if that makes sense. It sounds like you should be proactive when you have flexibility, but I think we're in a position where we can react to some of those opportunities, and that may not come this week. It may. "I mean, we're not going to not do something if it's there just because we said we're not going to. "The one thing about this environment is that people come here, and you're sort of stuck in a room, there's GMs down the hall, and just out of sheer boredom alone will sort of lead you to meet and talk with people. And sometimes that will lead to something inspiring."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.