The Athletics were the first team to give Jack Cust a legitimate shot in the major leagues.

The Athletics were the first team to give Jack Cust a legitimate shot in the major leagues.

So after the two parties went their separate ways last month, it wasn't a complete shock to see them reunite Thursday.

Cust agreed to a one-year, $2.65 million contract with the A's, supplying much-needed power that Oakland has yet to land elsewhere in free agency. Incentives could bump his earnings to $3 million.

Cust, expected to be the regular designated hitter, led the A's in homers each of the past three seasons.

But when they didn't tender him a contract by the Dec. 12 deadline, the arbitration-eligible slugger became a free agent.

The A's left the door open to bring him back, and Cust credited the team for rescuing his career and said he hoped a deal might still come together.

He made $2.8 million last season and would have received a healthy raise had the A's offered arbitration, so this deal is team-friendly.

"There was a good comfort level for Jack (in Oakland)," his agent, Bobby Barad, said. "He enjoyed his teammates. It made sense for him to go back there. There was a lot of interest (from other teams). Of that interest, probably three or four legit opportunities."

Cust's deficiencies as an outfielder likely made him more of a DH option and thus more attractive to American League teams. But Barad said he drew interest from AL and NL squads.

No doubt the A's need his offensive production most.

"All along, our hope was to keep Jack here," assistant general manager David Forst said. "I think we wanted to let Jack explore — for us and for them — to see what the market finally developed as."

Cust did not return phone messages left by Bay Area News Group on Wednesday.

Before Cust's return, recently acquired Jake Fox appeared in line for considerable DH time. Now his playing time likely will have to come at third base, first base or the outfield. And with the A's bringing top prospects such as first baseman Chris Carter and outfielder Michael Taylor to spring training, even Fox may not have a guaranteed roster spot.

The A's continue to search for a potential everyday third baseman before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 20 in case Eric Chavez isn't healthy.

Felipe Lopez and former Athletic Miguel Tejada are two of the more intriguing free agents available, and Forst said the A's have "some open-ended trade discussions" going involving third basemen.

Oakland was in serious pursuit of Adrian Beltre — reportedly offering a three-year, $24 million deal — before Beltre signed with Boston.

"We have plenty of (financial) flexibility still," Forst said.

The A's are interested in Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, but recent reports identify the Angels, Blue Jays and Red Sox as the front-runners to land him.

———

(c) 2010, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).

Visit the Contra Costa Times on the Web at http:www.contracostatimes.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.