Braves receptive to Kotsay deal
Veteran core thinks center fielder will fit in well in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- There was plenty to celebrate this past weekend as the Braves hosted their most successful FanFest ever. The organization's celebratory mood will increase on Monday if Mark Kotsay's health provides them the opportunity to publicly enjoy their latest acquisition.
Although he was wearing an evident smile when he arrived at The Georgia World Congress Center for FanFest on Sunday, Braves general manager Frank Wren couldn't actually comment on the reality that he might be able to officially announce Kotsay as his club's new center fielder within the next 24 hours.
But while Wren is forced to remain quiet, many of the current Braves chose to immediately praise the acquisition of Kotsay, who is scheduled to undergo a physical in Atlanta on Monday.
"I've always like how he plays," Braves left-hander Tom Glavine said. "I think he plays a really good center field. He's a tough hitter. He's not a guy who is going to get himself out too often. Obviously, a big factor for him is his health. If he's healthy and the back isn't an issue for him, I think people are going to like the way he plays."
On Saturday, the Braves agreed in principle with the A's to send right-handed reliever Joey Devine to Oakland in exchange for Kotsay, sources said. Like any other transaction, this one won't be official until all necessary medical procedures are completed.
But given Kotsay's recent back problems, the Braves have reason to cross their fingers a little tighter until Monday's physical is completed. A herniated disk that caused Kotsay problems during the 2005 and 2006 seasons forced him to undergo arthroscopic back surgery in March.
After missing the first two months of this past season, Kotsay returned and quickly found further discomfort. In August, with the A's out of the race, it was determined that he would end his season after playing in just 56 games.
The Braves are hoping extended rest has brought relief to Kotsay, who believes he might have returned to action too soon. He hit .271 during his first 18 games back. But the lingering discomfort likely played a part in the fact that he hit just .184 in the final 38 games before ending his season on Aug. 14.
"When he's healthy, he's one of the best competitors in baseball," said Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira, who played against Kotsay in the American League for the past four seasons. "He wore us out in Texas for years. He's one of those guys as a first baseman, I played back a little bit.
"This guy can hit. He can hit doubles, triples and home runs. He gets on base and can score some runs. Plus, he plays a great center field. He's the complete package."
Given the chance, the Braves would have liked to introduce Kotsay as their newest addition during this weekend's FanFest, which welcomed a record crowd of 25,000 while being held at the GWCC for the first time. But some final financial negotiations prevented the deal from being completed in time.
Because of the uncertainty of Kotsay's recent back problems, the Braves don't know exactly what they've acquired. But the fact that the A's are going to pay more than $5 million of the 32 year-old outfielder's $7.33 million salary provides a chance that they have potentially filled their biggest remaining offseason need for a bargain.
"You look at the whole picture, what we're going to have to pay him and what he can bring to the table, and he was the best guy we could have gotten," Braves right-hander Tim Hudson said. "The guy plays the game hard and his teammates love playing with him."
Kotsay joined Hudson with the A's in 2004 and promptly hit a career-best .314 with 15 homers. His career marks at the end of that season, included a .287 batting average, a .425 slugging percentage and .343 on-base percentage.
Since the back problems worsened in 2005, Kotsay's production has dropped. During the past three seasons, he has hit .267 with a .388 slugging percentage and .321 on-base percentage.
If Kotsay, who turned 32 in December, proves healthy, he may be just as valuable of an offseason addition as Glavine, who returned to the organization in November to stabilize the rotation.
Heading into the offseason, Wren's desire was to strengthen his pitching staff and do whatever he could to find a replacement for Andruw Jones, who captured his 10th consecutive Gold Glove Award in November.
"With Tom Glavine, we add a Hall of Famer," Teixeira said. "We lose Andruw Jones and we put in a guy who is just as good as Andruw Jones. When Mark Kotsay is healthy, he's just as good as Andruw Jones. So we're really not missing a beat."
Teixeira was in Atlanta for just the final two months of this past season and obviously didn't see Jones at his best. But Glavine remembers Jones' brilliant glove and feels it was impossible to replace what his former Gold Glove teammate provided from a defensive perspective.
With this being said, it's seemingly better to replace Jones with Kotsay than it would have been to replace him with either Josh Anderson or Jordan Schafer, who previously were heralded as the favorites for the center-field job. Neither has been in the Majors for an extended period and Schafer has never played above Class A.
"Let's be honest, nobody is going to fill Andruw's shoes," Glavine said. "I think you can have somebody go out there, play a good center field and be an asset to your team. I'm not saying that those two younger guys wouldn't or won't some time during the year. "But I think in a transition year, when you're going from arguably one of -- if not the -- greatest center fielder of all time, it will be nice to have a veteran guy out there because you know that he can deal with [the pressure]."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.