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Oakland Athletics Offseason: A's Non-Tender Jack Cust, Chat With Lance Berkman Before 2010 MLB Winter Meetings

The Oakland Athletics took care of some house-cleaning this week in advance of next week’s 2010 MLB Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Yesterday was the non-tender deadline for arbitration eligible players. If a team tenders a contract to such a player, the two sides then advance to the arbitration process where the player and team exchange one-year contract offers on January 18. If the sides can’t come to an agreement on a contract the two sides present their cases before a three-judge arbitration panel and that panel picks one of the two offers.

The A’s elected to not tender contracts to OF/DH Jack Cust, OF Travis Buck, and recently claimed 3B Edwin Encarnacion. This is the second consecutive year the A’s have not tendered a contract to Jack Cust. Cust earned $2.65 million in 2009 and would have seen a sizable increase via arbitration. While non-tendering Cust makes him a free agent, if there isn’t another interested team the Athletics will gain significant leverage and save some money on his contract.

The Cust non-tender is also significant because the A’s have been putting on the press to try and land former Astros and Yankees OF/1B/DH Lance Berkman. As Susan Slusser pointed out, the A’s likely non-tendered Cust because either they think they’re close to landing Berkman, or they figure Cust is just too expensive in arbitration for his skill-set.

The A’s also elected to non-tender Edwin Encarnacion while tendering Kevin Kouzmanoff. Both are primarily third basemen so it’s not surprising that they split the difference in tendering one of them. And given the Athletics reported interest in Adrian Beltre, there isn’t need for three third basemen. Even if the A’s don’t land Beltre, they would have had to make a choice between Kooz and Encarnacion.

The final non-tender saw the A’s cut loose disappointing OF Travis Buck. After an extremely promising rookie season, Buck has seen his numbers get progressively worse amidst mounting injuries. Although the A’s OF has some question marks, the three starting spots are likely filled by Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Chris Carter.

Additionally, the team came to terms with Ryan Sweeney on a one-year contract to avoid arbitration. Sweeney dealt with a patella injury and will look to bounce back in 2010. This contract leaves the A’s with six arbitration-eligible players left including SP Dallas Braden, RP Craig Breslow, RP Joey Devine, OF Conor Jackson, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, and RP Brad Ziegler.

This coming week should be an interesting one as talks with Lance Berkman should heat up. Although a deal might not get done, the Athletics can get closer to getting something done. We’ll have a running stream on all next week’s events, but in the meantime make sure and check out Athletics Nation for all sorts of in-depth A’s discussion.