This is part of a series of posts wherein we belittle teams for their boneheaded winter bumbling, or else praise them their their prescient preseason ploys.

The Oakland A’s had a busy offseason. Despite trimming payroll by about $10 million from last season to this season, they found some spare change in the clubhouse couch to make a few moves in the free agent market, signing Coco Crisp to take over in center field (1 year, $4.5 million), inking Gabe Gross as a backup outfielder (1 year, $785,000), and gambling on oft-injured starter Ben Sheets (1 year, $10 million).

In addition, they managed to resign three true outcomes champion Jack Cust to return as DH (1 year, $2.65 million) and starter Justin Duchscherer (1 year, $2 million), who missed all last season due to injury.

They also made a flurry of trades. First they traded some spare parts to the Chicago Cubs for positionless masher Jake Fox and futility infielder Aaron Miles. Then they flipped Miles to the Reds for outfielder Willy Taveras and infielder Adam Rosales, only to release Taveras to make room on the roster to sign Gross.

Next they managed to insert themselves into the blockbuster Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee deal between Philadelphia, Seattle, and Toronto as a minor fourth party, shipping 3B prospect Brett Wallace (whom they had acquired from the Cardinals last season in the Matt Holliday deal) to Toronto for outfield prospect Michael Taylor.

Lastly, they returned erstwhile Padre Scott Hairston to San Diego along with outfield prospect Aaron Cunningham for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and a minor leaguer, siginaling that the A’s have finally given up once and for all on the idea that Eric Chavez will ever be healthy again.

Although the A’s will once again have one of the lowest payrolls in the game, at around $50 million on opening day, Billy Beane keeps doing what he always does, wheeling and dealing and creatively patching the leaky hulk that is the perennially undermanned A’s as best he can through sheer guile.

His approach this offseason appears to be the same as the one he has used for the past few years: an approach that Fangraphs has summarized as “Adam Dunns and Endy Chavezes”, i.e. scooping up players who are undervalued either because they are really good at defense or really bad at defense.

The problem is that it’s never really enough. You can have every player on your whole team returning you more theoretical value than they are actually getting paid, but if your team payroll is only $50 million it still might not add up to enough value overall to get your team into the playoffs.

All that said, you still have to like a lot of these moves if you are an A’s fan. Crisp and Cust are almost sure to return more value than they are getting paid, Fox is a good bat to have around, and Duchscherer is a good gamble at only $2 million because even though he’s coming off of injuries, when healthy he has been very, very good. The Kouzmanoff deal is also very exciting for the A’s because they’ll finally have a legitimate third baseman who is good with both the bat and the glove, and Kouzmanoff is still under team control for three years.

The one move I find questionable is signing Ben Sheets. Sheets has not cleared the 200 innings mark since 2004, so it’s hard to expect true ace-like dominance for a whole season from him. If he even clears 165 innings this year, you would have to call that a success, but given the downside risk, is that really worth $10 million? Are the A’s really just one healthy Ben Sheets away from contention that it’s worth spending one-fifth of their entire team payroll on a gamble that he can stay on the field?

I also wonder what is going to happen with this team in 2011. All these 1-year contracts are great in that there’s less risk for the team and more flexibility, but the A’s have basically no one at all under contract for 2011 (nope, not even Eric Chavez!!), so that is an awful lot of flexibility. There’s something to be said for having some certainty, but then again, maybe Billy Beane doesn’t really care much for certainty.

In the end, it was a very eventful offseason, and most of the moves were solid, but it doesn’t look like the A’s really did enough to get themselves over the hump and back into contention, especially with Seattle going for broke and the Angels reloading. The Athletics have still got an awful lot of talented young players coming up through the pipeline though, especially talented young pitchers, so maybe something exciting will happen with all that roster flexibility in 2011. 2010 though, could be another long year in Oak-town.

Grade: B

Acquisitions: SP Ben Sheets, OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, IF Jake Fox, OF Gabe Gross, IF Adam Rosales

Losses: SP Dana Eveland, SS Bobby Crosby, OF Scott Hairston, IF Nomar Garciaparra, IF Adam Kennedy, 3B Brett Wallace

Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer

C – Kurt Suzuki
1B – Daric Barton/Jake Fox
2B – Mark Ellis
3B – Kevin Kouzmanoff
SS – Cliff Pennington
LF – Rajai Davis
CF – Coco Crisp
RF – Ryan Sweeney
DH – Jack Cust

SP1 – Ben Sheets
SP2 – Justin Duchscherer
SP3 – Brett Anderson
SP4 – Dallas Braden
SP5 – Trevor Cahill

CL – Andrew Bailey

– Hot Offseason Action Index –

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