It's been surprising the initial reaction of Atlanta's upcoming trade with Oakland has been somewhat negative. No trade is going to please everyone, but there are so many reasons this trade makes sense that you'd think more would be receptive to the deal.
No, it's not like Mark Kotsay is going to make the Braves instant World Series favorites, and it seems some fans complain about any move that won't guarantee just that. But this fills yet another need, much like most of the moves made by new General Manager Frank Wren.
Fans seem to want ‘sexy’ moves, big trades and free agent signings that will place the Braves as the favorites in the National League East. But isn’t it more important to simply improve the areas that need help, and then hope that in combination with the returning players that did help win 84 games last season the club can get to the next level?
After the departure of Andruw Jones through free agency the Braves did have a question mark in center. And this was a dicey situation due to the presence of a young prospect in Jordan Schafer, who just finished High-A last season. The Braves had to weigh the timetable of Schafer with their immediate need for the upcoming season.
Wren traded reliever Oscar Villarreal to Houston back in November for outfielder Josh Anderson, a player projected mainly as a fourth outfielder, but also as a possible stopgap to fill the void until Schafer might be ready sometime this season. But the ability to acquire a veteran with even more experience was always a possibility.
Kotsay came up with the Marlins back in 1997, when Wren was the Assistant General Manager. The Braves know many of Kotsay’s former coaches, both in the majors and minor leagues, and got glowing reports on what Kotsay could bring to the clubhouse. The Braves feel Kotsay’s leadership could replace that which was lost when Edgar Renteria was traded to the Tigers last October.
You have to think about the youth on this team, and with Brandon Jones possibly seeing significant time in left this season, the prospect of having two young players in center and left is a bit risky. Not to mention the fact that right-fielder Jeff Francoeur is still only 24 years old. So Wren weighed that with the chance at getting a veteran that could also help provide solid leadership.
Might there be better candidates than Mark Kotsay? Perhaps, but it’s doubtful Wren could have getting anyone similar for only $2 million dollars, the amount reported to be the Braves’ responsibility after Oakland pays a large portion of Kotsay’s contract. It’s only $2 million, for a player that if healthy could give the Braves a solid replacement for Andruw Jones.
Yes, that’s an ‘if’ considering Kotsay’s back trouble from last year. He reportedly came back too soon from the procedure last March that removed part of a herniated disc. Braves doctors are checking him out Monday in hopes that the deal will be completed, but the team is optimistic Kotsay will get a clean bill of health.
What were the other options? Should the Braves have overspent for Mike Cameron, as the Brewers probably did? Should the Braves have overspent for Corey Patterson, who wants more than $2 million? Should the Braves have given up someone even more than Joey Devine for a CoCo Crisp-type player?
Again, the Braves only need a center fielder for one year – at the most – maybe even only three or four months. Kotsay gives the Braves time to develop Schafer, who coincidently was compared to Kotsay when he was drafted by Atlanta back in 2005. Both were pitchers in school who became position players and outstanding defensive performers.
Kotsay has been a solid player for many years with the Marlins, Padres, and Athletics. He’s not going to the Hall of Fame, like Andruw Jones, but he’s a sound player that plays the game the right way. And remember, more than likely the center fielder of this team, whether it’s Kotsay or Anderson or Brent Lillibridge or Gregor Blanco, is likely to hit eighth in the lineup. A veteran like Kotsay hitting eighth on this team makes it a pretty potent attack.
And the price for Kotsay, and for the A’s to pay over $5 million of Kotsay’s salary, is reliever Joey Devine. Look, I’m a huge Devine fan, but there was probably only a one in three chance he was going to make this Atlanta club out of spring training. With those odds, and the depth the team has in the bullpen both in the majors and in Triple-A, Devine was expendable.
Now we shouldn’t be surprised if Devine goes to Oakland and takes over as the closer if Huston Street is traded, and if that happens Devine is going to be successful. But that doesn’t mean he would have been given the chance to do the same thing with Atlanta. His role was just not going to be the same, but if Devine does blossom nothing Kotsay can do will probably ease the pain in some people’s eyes of giving up a kid that became a closer.
But look at the Atlanta bullpen. They’ve got Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, Royce Ring, Will Ohman, and Tyler Yates arguably locked into five of the seven bullpen spots. Some would even say that Manny Acosta and Jeff Bennett are locked into the other two positions. But along with Acosta and Bennett, you’ll have Blaine Boyer and Chris Resop (both out of options), Buddy Carlyle, Phil Stockman, Zach Schreiber, Ryan Drese, Charlie Morton, and Matt DeSalvo in the mix as well.
So how good would Devine’s chances have been to even make the Atlanta roster out of spring training, especially since he has an option to the minor leagues left? Probably not so good.
Therefore the Braves used a strength to fill another need. Okay, you can say that Wren already used the bullpen depth to help center field when he traded Villarreal for Anderson. But Villarreal was going to be non-tendered if he had not been traded, so to get any breathing soul for him was a coup. And don’t forget that the Braves could get another huge bullpen arm back in midseason if Mike Gonzalez comes back from his Tommy John surgery, which could further crowd the bullpen.
Devine is going to be a good pitcher in the big leagues, but Frank Wren had to look at using a player that might not be a significant piece this season to get someone that might be in Kotsay. If Kotsay can bridge the gap and give Jordan Schafer more time to develop, and at the same time help the Braves win, Devine’s contributions to Oakland should be irrelevant.
This trade just makes sense. It might not be the perfect move, but there are too many plusses to complain about it. The Braves can’t wait for Kotsay to provide some leadership in the clubhouse, and with a team that can look awfully young at times that might be the best part of this trade.
We’re now a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Disney. The Braves have improved their major flaw from last season (the rotation) with the additions of Tom Glavine and Jair Jurrjens. They’ve added depth to the team with the acquisitions of Anderson, Omar Infante, and Javy Lopez. They replaced their departed lefty reliever (Ron Mahay) with Will Ohman, and now they’ve replaced their departed center fielder (Jones) with Kotsay.
Are these moves ‘sexy?’ Maybe not. But you know back in 1991 when John Schuerholz took over as the Braves’ GM not many people believed the additions of Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard, Juan Berenguer, and Otis Nixon were ‘sexy’ either. It’s all about filling holes and improving the roster, and when the Braves complete the trade with Oakland, the acquisition of Mark Kotsay is going to make this team better.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.