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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Beane does heavy lifting before Winter Meetings

Beane does heavy lifting before Winter Meetings

Beane does heavy lifting before Winter Meetings

Oakland A's vice president and general manager Billy Beane is going to show up late for next week's Winter Meetings, checking in Monday night. And he's going to leave early, heading back home on Wednesday night.

It is not like Beane has much more left to do during the game's annual offseason confab. He has spent the past couple of days taking care of his offseason business.

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Now, it's a matter of enjoying the holidays, keeping an eye out for another deal Beane can't refuse and looking forward to the start of Spring Training, when the A's are hoping their revamping this winter will allow them to claim a third consecutive American League West title -- and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1990.

"I really like the club," said Beane.

What's not to like?

Beane answered the question about the rotation in light of the departure of Bartolo Colon by agreeing to a two-year, $24 million deal with free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir, which was finalized on Wednesday.

Beane found the replacement for closer Grant Balfour, another player who decided to check out the free-agent market, by acquiring Jim Johnson -- the Major League leader in saves the last two seasons -- from Baltimore, and he improved the bullpen depth with the addition of Luke Gregerson from San Diego.

Beane found a speedy outfielder alternative in Craig Gentry from Texas to provide protection in center field for Coco Crisp, as well as platoon in right field.

Oh, and there's still the possibility Beane can deal lefty Brett Anderson -- the A's Opening Day starter a year ago. Even with Anderson still on board, the signing of Kazmir and expected arbitration case that will net Johnson around $10 million, Beane said he was able to get all that done without a dramatic impact on the team's payroll.

"We're probably only about $5 million higher," Beane said. "The fact is, when you have productive younger players, it allows you to overpay a bit to meet your needs."

But there was a price. The A's, in the last five months, have seen their first-round Draft picks for 2007-10 leave the organization.

Michael Choice, who was one of the top prospects in the Oakland farm system and the 10th player taken in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, was dealt to Texas to get Gentry. That comes after last July's trade of '09 No. 1 pick Grant Green to the Angels for utility infielder Alberto Callaspo ; the loss of right-hander James Simmons, the No. 1 pick in '07, as a Minor League free agent; and the trade of second baseman Jemile Weeks, the No. 1 pick in '08, for Johnson.

How does that bode for the future? Don't worry about it. Beane doesn't.

"We have a year-to-year stadium lease, how can we have a five-year plan?" said Beane. "We have to recognize opportunities when they are there and go for it. We've always operated either all-in or all-out."

Right now is one of those all-in times. After advancing to the postseason five times in the first seven years of the 21st century, the A's had five consecutive seasons without a winning record before winning the back-to-back division titles, ending the AL West reign of the Rangers, who had won the AL pennant in 2010 and '11.

That's why Beane actually stepped out of character and swung a deal for a proven closer in Johnson. It is something he hadn't done in his previous 16 years as Oakland's general manager, during which nine pitchers led the A's in saves.

And don't overlook the impact of Gregerson, who turns 30 in May. He has been one of the game's most consistent setup men over the past five years. Gregerson's 61 appearances in 2011 marked the only time in his five big league seasons he made fewer than 72, and he has a 2.88 ERA in 363 career games.

Oh, there's a gamble. There's always a gamble. Ask the Rangers or Angels or Blue Jays, who have made major offseason investments the past couple of winters without getting the payoff of playoff baseball.

And for the A's, that risk begins with the two-year deal they gave Kazmir, who was a combined 19-24 with a 5.54 ERA from 2009-12, working only 1 1/3 innings in '11 and spending '12 pitching in an independent league before reviving his career in Cleveland this past season.

Kazmir was only 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA for the Indians, but he did make 29 starts, averaging just 5.4 innings per outing.

But Kazmir did show the ability to maintain his velocity from Opening Day until season's end, averaging 92.5 mph with his fastball, which was his highest since his All-Star days with Tampa Bay. More importantly, he didn't wear down.

Kazmir actually got better as the season went on. His ERA went from 4.60 before the All-Star break to 3.38 after, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio went from 2.67 to 4.82. And in September, when the Indians made their postseason drive, Kazmir walked only four batters while striking out 43 in 28 innings.

"We didn't have that many positions to fill," said Beane.

But the A's have filled them, and they did it in style.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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