Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Market for Jack Cust

When the A's acquired Jake Fox from the Cubs, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jack Cust. And sure enough, he was non-tendered yesterday:

Non-tendering Cust removes Oakland's leading home run hitter in each of the past three seasons. But along with the 84 long balls from 2007-09, Cust struck out 546 times, leading the American League in each of those seasons.

Having made $2.8 million last year, when he drove in 70 runs with 25 homers, Cust would have been in line for a considerable raise through binding salary arbitration.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane clearly preferred to channel those funds in different directions. The A's will seek reinforcements at third, short and in the outfield the balance of this offseason.

The 30-year-old Cust had been the A's primary designated hitter, making 96 of his 147 starts last season in that role. But Oakland may already have a replacement: Jake Fox, acquired as part of a recent trade with the Chicago Cubs, is a similar defensively challenged guy with a heavy bat.

Now that Cust has hit the market, it will be interesting to see what teams go after him. Cust is a lock to be signed by an AL team because he cannot play defense, but his ability to hit for power and draw lots of walks could make him a commodity on the free agent market. Let's take a look at what teams might be interested:

  • Mariners: Last season, the Mariners managed to win 85 games with the Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr as their primary DHs. There's no doubt that this team could use an upgrade at the position. Despite Cust's low batting average and high strikeout totals, he would certainly be an upgrade for the Mariners because of his ability to get on base and hit for power. The Mariners finished dead last in OBP last season and picking up Cust on the cheap would certainly give them a boost.
  • Blue Jays: As of right now, the Blue Jays have no competent DH on their 2010 roster (unless you want to count Randy Ruiz). Sure the Blue Jays offense is lefty dominant, but I have no doubts that Cust would be a nice addition to the Blue Jays offense, which has lost Marco Scutaro this winter. Cust would be a nice fit behind Vernon Wells in the Blue Jays lineup and add a potent bat to a lineup that could be dangerous if Wells gets his act together.

General manager Billy Beane told me that this move does not preclude the A's trying to re-sign Cust.

"It's not out of the question," Beane said. "The one advantage there is with a non-tender is that you can continue to negotiate with the player, so the possibility still remains."

  • Tigers: Now that Curtis Granderson has been dealt, the Tigers lineup is missing a left handed power hitter. Oh yeah, did I mention that they have no DH as well? Enter Jack Cust. However, keep in mind that the Tigers planned on rotating DHs this season, so we'll see if the actually want to bring Cust aboard. Also, do they actually have any money to spend? If they do, Cust would be a great, cheap option for the Tigers.
  • White Sox: When your team finished 10th in the AL in OBP and your starting DH in 2010 right now is Andruw Jones, then GM Kenny Williams needs to at least kick the tires on Jack Cust and see if there is a possibility to bring him to the South Side. Not only would Cust be a great fit, but he would add a potent lefty bat to a righty dominant lineup.
This decision will surely affect the A's in 2010 because their offense will move from horrible to absolutely horrific without Cust. It'll be fascinating to see if Cust is able to land a multi year contract and how Cust's inclusion on the free agent market changes things for free agent Jim Thome.

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