OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Billy Beane has been in the baseball business long enough to know how all the offseason speculation fuels the sport until spring training rolls around.
From whether Alex Rodriguez would head West or stay put in Yankee pinstripes to where Twins ace Johan Santana might land for 2008, it's already been an interesting winter on the baseball front.
Now, as the annual winter meetings approach next week, everybody wants to know whether Oakland's crafty general manager will offer up his top pitchers - All-Star Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, Rich Harden or even closer Huston Street - to better his own low-budget operation.
``There's lots of scuttlebutt about our players,'' Beane said. ``Teams want them. But it's coming not from us but from the teams out there with interest. We have players people call about. It's just a story by the nature of them having interest.''
While Santana is certain to be coveted by numerous clubs if the Twins opt to trade him, it would take less to get a proven starter like Haren or Blanton from the A's. The Mets and Dodgers are among the teams apparently interested in discussing a deal with Oakland, because they might not be willing to pay the price to get Santana. The left-hander and two-time AL Cy Young Award winner already is being pursued by the big-spending Yankees, Red Sox and Angels.
Are the A's top pitchers truly on the trading block? Well, Beane rarely has untouchables on his roster.
On this team, anybody can become expendable. It's not personal, and the players know and expect it. Take Beane's shocking three-day span in December 2004, when he dealt a pair of aces in Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. That left the team's Big Three as the Big One in Barry Zito.
Beane also has watched his star players leave as free agents for expensive contracts elsewhere. Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada. And, of course, Zito. The left-hander signed a $126 million, seven-year contract to work across the bay with the San Francisco Giants - the richest deal ever for a pitcher.
Harden doesn't have nearly the same trade value he would had he stayed healthy in 2007. Instead, Harden remains a pitcher baseball experts believe could be the No. 1 on a staff if he were available for a full year.
Harden went 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in only 25 2-3 innings all season because of an inflamed right shoulder and didn't pitch again after July 7. He threw two simulated games late in the year with the hopes of making two final starts, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth risking further injury.
He was 4-0 in only nine games in 2006, spending time on the disabled list with a strained back and then a strained elbow ligament.
Beane is always looking to tweak his team without overspending.
The A's finished a disappointing 76-86 in 2007 after reaching the AL championship series a year earlier, but they did place third in the division on the final day ahead of last-place Texas. Oakland had its streak of winning seasons end at eight, and went 9-17 in September for its worst final month since going 8-20 in 1985.
No second-half surge this time - 2007 was the club's first losing season since going 74-88 in 1998.
Oakland doesn't typically make a splash at the winter meetings. At last year's session in Florida, for example, Beane arrived two days late. The A's did agree to terms on a one-year deal with designated hitter Mike Piazza during that time. The DH spot could be a position Beane looks to fill by swapping a pitcher or two, though Jack Cust has shown he is a dangerous power hitter.
So don't be surprised if the A's are fairly quiet next week in Nashville.
``I don't think we use the winter meetings as a time of focus,'' Beane said. ``We're open for business all year round. As always, we have our eyes and ears open.''

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