Monday, January 14, 2008

The Oakland A's Monday #21

News Item: CF Mark Kotsay (and cash considerations) traded from Oakland Athletics to Atlanta Braves in exchange for RP Joey Devine

And, so ends the Mark Kotsay Era – one of the worst signings of Billy Beane's tenure as Oakland's General Manager.

Kotsay was actually acquired via trade at the end of the 2003 season. Oakland sent disgruntled mediocrity Terrence Long and established young catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Padres for Kotsay, a former first round draft pick who'd spent three pretty good seasons in San Diego.

In his first season in Oakland, Kotsay put up several offensive career highs, including hits, batting average, on-base and slugging percentage. He became an instant fan favorite for a large segment of today's A's fans (squealing teens whose fandom stretches all the way back to earlier this decade) and, combined with his admittedly incredible defense in centerfield, seemed like a good candidate to lock up long term.

And, here's where Beane screwed it all up.

Kotsay has a history back troubles, dating back to 2003. In fact, the trade that brought him to Oakland was held up for over a week due to an extensive physical exam the A's put Kotsay through before finalizing the deal.

In July 2005, the A's signed Kotsay to a 2-year, $15M extension. Even though he was coming off of the best year of his career, I hated this move. Trust me, kids, this ain't hindsight:

(1) Kotsay's "career year" was obviously due to a fluky spike in his batting average. His .314 BA drove all of other offensive numbers and all because a dozen or so more hits fell in for him than in a typical season.

(2) Has anyone ever heard of chronic back injuries in baseball getting better with age? Forget the torque involved in swinging a bat, Kotsay plays one of the most physically demanding positions on the diamond that doesn't involve tools of ignorance.

(3) And, finally, my biggest beef – at the time of the extension, Kotsay had a team option on him for 2006. He'd be 30 years old after that season and the A's would have had two full years to determine if '04 an outlier or legit. Instead, Oakland guaranteed his option year and graciously added 2007-08 for grins.

By the end of 2005, Kotsay's numbers had fallen right back around his career line to that point. The following year, he lost nearly 40 points in slugging pct, before requiring back surgery in early 2007 and completely bottoming out at the plate (.214/.279/.296) in about 200 at-bats.

That the A's got anything at all for the squalid shell of himself that Kotsay's become says a lot about the Braves desperation to replace Andruw Jones in centerfield. That the small-market A's are paying most of Kotsay's 2008 salary, in turn, says a lot about their desperation to be rid of him.

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