Some of the names I see bandied about are players the A's might be interested in -- if the A's were a completely different organization. The fact is, while free agent lists are accessible and enticing, it is for good reason that Oakland usually goes in a different direction in building its roster.
First of all, the free agent market is generally a trap. It's where players cash in, not where teams cash in. Good free agents are almost always overpaid, as they get rewarded for past performance rather than being scouted for future excellence.
That is not to say Beane has never made a substantial offer to a coveted free agent. He went hard, twice, after Adrian Beltre, and threw a large hat into the ring for Raphael Furcal. Most of the time, however, the A's prefer to sit back and let other teams make ginormous commitments to Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Zito, Fernando Rodney, and so on.
Some of this is that the A's simply do not have the resources to allocate 9-figure salaries, or 20% of their payroll, to individual players. But part of it is also that often the A's are actually able to find the same talent for minimum wage.
Oakland could pursue Phil Hughes, a middle of the rotation SP who gives up too many HRs, but to the A's way of thinking, those kinds of pitchers are fine so long as they make less than $1/2million. Like A.J. Griffin, for example. The A's did not make an offer of several million/year to Jason Vargas, not because they didn't want a LHP who threw a lot of strikes, didn't light up the radar gun, gave up a few too many HRs, but ultimately served as a solid back-of-the-rotation SP. They simply went out and got a different one -- a much better bargain -- in Tommy Milone. The biggest difference, in 2012-13, between Albert Pujols and Brandon Moss? Not production; salary.
What I don't see the A's doing is signing a more expensive version of someone Oakland can find cheaper. That's just not what the A's do. A good example of the A's M.O. is the Cahill-Parker deal, in which the A's swapped a quality SP for a younger and cheaper version.
It's not about being cheap so much as it's about staying young, cheap, and good, all at the same time, and nobody can beat Father Time like Beane. So when trying to figure out what signings, or trades, the A's are likely to pursue this off-season, don't look for basement-bargain hunting -- look for opportunities to turn the 2013 club into one that swaps out some players for affordable equivalents that are just as productive.
Chris Young for Michael Choice is a classic example. Thanks to Young's disappointing season, it will not be hard for Choice to step in and replace Young's production, only for league minimum. As for Grant Balfour, I wonder if the A's will take a look at Jose Veras, whose $3.25M option was (inexplicably to me) declined yesterday by the Tigers.
I really wonder whether the A's will bring back Colon, who will no longer be cheap, just "yet one more year older," when they could quite possibly get equal production, at a lower salary, from one of the reclamation projects out there (e.g., Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Gavin Floyd). Not that his career so far has produced 1/1,000,000th of their success, but the signing today of Philip Humber (to a minor league deal) fits with the A's interest in adding potential big league arms without adding big payroll.
I also wonder if the A's might toy with putting Jesse Chavez into the mix for SP depth along with (if not traded or disabled) Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, and Tommy Milone. With a solid cutter now in his repertoire along with a 93MPH fastball, a big curve, and a changeup, Chavez most certainly has the pitches to succeed as a SP and he showed himself well when asked to pitch longer last season -- the most memorable example being his 5.2 IP stint in Oakland's 18 inning win over the Yankees. Why sign a free agent pitcher for millions when you can insert Chavez into the mix for...you got it, league minimum? That's how the A's roll.
How can you see the A's turning expensive assets into cheaper ones that are just as good? Because that's what Beane is seeing -- or at least is setting out to find. And he's really good at it.