OAKLAND – Speaking less than 24 hours after his team was eliminated from the playoffs for the second year in a row by a determined Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, A's manager Bob Melvin said Friday the abruptness of this opening-round exit seemed to sting a little bit more.
"Last year was kind of a cloud we were just running on," Melvin said. "This year we felt like we were going to go farther and had some unfinished business."
General manager Billy Beane, meanwhile, didn't feel like comparing.
"It's like asking which hangover is the worst," Beane said. "They're all bad."
As players filtered in and out of a quiet clubhouse Friday morning, clearing out lockers and boxing belongings to be shipped to offseason homes, both Melvin and Beane said they're optimistic that the A's, with a promising core built around a young pitching staff, are set up well to contend again – and look decidedly familiar – in 2014.
"Most of the guys we can bring back, which is good," Beane said. "It means there's less to do during the winter. And most of these guys won the A.L. West the last two years, so they're worthy of bringing back."
The A's, who won 96 games in the regular season while capturing a second consecutive division title, have some decisions to make in the offseason. Bartolo Colon, who won 18 games at age 40, will be a free agent, as will closer Grant Balfour. The A's also must decide whether to exercise options for next year on center fielder Coco Crisp, pitcher Brett Anderson and outfielder Chris Young, among others.
Beane said it's "pretty apparent" the A's will pick up their $7.5 million option on Crisp, who hit a career-high 22 home runs this year while scoring 93 runs and stealing 21 bases in 131 games.
He also indicated the A's are interested in bringing back Colon, who returned from a drug suspension on a one-year deal this season and posted his highest win total since 2005 and the second-lowest ERA (2.65) in the American League.
Beane said his impression is that Colon, who will turn 41 in May, wants to keep pitching, and that along with on-field performance, Colon adds a "nice, relaxing personality in the clubhouse amongst a bunch of kids."
"It would be foolish, even at this early juncture, to say we wouldn't have interest in bringing him back," Beane said.
Beane indicated the A's also will pick up Anderson's $8 million option for 2014 and said they view Anderson as a starter going forward, which could make for a crowded rotation picture, particularly if Colon returns. Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily are all under contract for next season, with Tommy Milone another candidate.
Balfour, meanwhile, said Thursday night that he would be interested in returning to the A's, but added: "You never know what they're going to do in baseball." Should Balfour not return, the A's have two options at closer in Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, and would likely explore adding bullpen depth over the winter.
Otherwise, many of the A's key pieces stay intact. Josh Donaldson was one of the A.L.'s top third basemen in his first full season at the position, while Brandon Moss hit a team-high 30 homers playing most of his 145 games at first base, and Jed Lowrie hit .290 with 75 RBIs at shortstop while managing to stay healthy over a full season.
Assuming Crisp returns, the A's will retain their starting outfield. Melvin said he expects better numbers next year from Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, both of whom battled injuries and slumps in 2013. Young has an $11 million option for next season, and if the A's opt not to exercise it, Beane said Michael Choice could be a candidate for the role of right-handed-hitting platoon outfielder.
"It feels good that we're getting most of our guys back," Reddick said. "A leadoff hitter like Coco Crisp, a guy who you're completely comfortable in the outfield with, he's got the power, the speed to steal 40 a year. That's going to be hard to replace, and hopefully we don't have to."
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/ bay-area-baseball.