I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Mark Kotsay. I loved telling people he was a former Padre. I hated the fact that he didn’t live up to my expectations. Now, we get another shot at seeing Kotsay in a Padres uniform. He reportedly agreed to a one year deal with the Padres worth $1.25 million. It’s a curious signing to say the least.
Kotsay had a pretty decent go of it while playing at Qualcomm (he was traded to the A’s prior to the opening of Petco Park in 2004), hitting .283/.394/.426 in three seasons with the Padres. He has a career slash-line of .278/.335/.410 and a career OPS+ of 97. These aren’t the type of numbers that jump off the page at you, but Kotsay is really a tale of two careers.
Kotsay posted a WAR greater than 2 in six of his first eight years in the big leagues. However, during the last nine seasons, he has only had two years above replacement level. In 2004, Kotsay finished 14th in AL MVP voting. In the eight seasons after that, he bounced around five different times. During his first eight years, Kotsay averaged over 10 home runs per year. During his last six, he never hit more than eight. You get the point.
While I’m not ready to squash this deal as a complete waste of the limited funds the Padres have to work with, I will suggest this is a continuation of the Padres desperation for production at first base in the absence of Adrian Gonzalez. Last season, Jed Hoyer took a big risk in Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu. Both flopped, and the Padres only had 13 home runs from its platoon of first basemen.
The Brewers speak highly of Kotsay, but he produced a negative WAR for the team in 255 plate appearances. At 36 years old, playing in a pitcher’s park like Petco, and operating as a utility man, Kotsay will have a hard time eclipsing his 2011 figures. However, should he succeed and post anything above a 1 in WAR, his contract will be a bargain. It’s a low-risk/high-reward signing by new Padres GM Josh Byrnes.
With Guzman still slated to play 1B contrary to my suggestions in this morning’s piece, Anthony Rizzo begging for another shot, and plenty more time this off-season for the Padres to seek out another first baseman, Kotsay may be a better fit as a utility outfielder. With the roster as it is (Will Venable, Cameron Maybin, Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham, Kyle Blanks, Jeremy Hermida, and Blake Tekotte) in the outfield, Kotsay has a legitimate shot at competing for the #4 outfielder slot. Maybin, Denorfia, and Venable will be the probable starters roaming the Petco outfield on opening day unless something drastic happens. So that leaves only one real threat for Kotsay in Kyle Blanks.
Whatever position Kotsay plays, this signing could very well set the tone for Josh Byrnes’ career in San Diego. His lack of success as a GM in Arizona makes the move worrisome, but the money being spent eases the concern. As easy as it may be to get nostalgic about Kotsay’s return to San Diego, let me caution you with a reminder:
The Padres went just 209-277 during his time with the club.