Make no mistake about it, two things are clear: The A's could have afforded to re-sign Frank Thomas, and Billy Beane knows how important it is for the A's to have a worthy middle-of-the-order hitter to supplement the remaining "supporting cast". Beane knew this before he was able to land Thomas, he knew it while Thomas was producing at MVP-levels for 100 games, and he knew it as Thomas was negotiating with Toronto. Meanwhile the figure Thomas settled for, about $9-10 million/year (depending on whether or not a buyout option is exercised), was a figure the A's could afford upon losing Zito, who was making about that, and Payton, who was making about half that.
Yet Beane elected not to match the offer, and history tells us why. Some of the best outcomes in the Beane era have involved players who were paid, or coveted, for past performance. Had Giambi re-signed with Oakland, the A's, forced to shed considerable payroll elsewhere to keep a man whose batting average would soon shrivel more than his testicles, would never have won 104 games--20 of them in a row--or made playoff appearances four years in a row. I thought the member of the Big Three the A's should invest in was Tim Hudson, he of the bulldog mentality and .700 career winning percentage, but the current model is neither sufficiently healthy nor sufficiently effective to make his high salary a good fit with a low payroll team. About the only guy who has pitched worse lately is Mark Mulder. You see what I mean.
With Thomas in the clean-up spot, the A's would be solid contenders, on paper, in 2007. Without Thomas in the clean-up spot, Beane must find a replacement and he has the money available to go after someone good enough to make the A's solid contenders, on paper, in 2007. But with Thomas on the A's bench injured, or in the A's lineup ineffective, and the A's unable to afford to replace him, the A's are not contenders: Game Over, thanks for playing, try again in 2009.
Given how good Thomas was in 2006, given that Beane recognizes how much the A's need a Thomas in their lineup, and given that Thomas signed for an amount within the A's budget, one has to conclude this: Billy Beane simply does not believe Frank Thomas can approach his 2006 level of health and performance in 2007-08. And when it comes to those judgment calls, Billy's track record has been remarkably close to 100%.