Ducksnorts Revisited: Kotsay for Hernández

From 1997 to 2011, Ducksnorts covered the Padres in its own unique way. Every once in a while, we dig into the archives for grins. With Mark Kotsay’s career in free fall, it’s important to remember that he used to be good. The following originally ran on November 19, 2003, when Kotsay was traded to the A’s for Ramón Hernández and Terrence Long. It has been annotated to reflect what we know now in addition to what we knew then.

Hadn’t planned to be away from the blog for so long this time. I started to scratch something together the other day when the Giants went out and picked up A.J. Pierzynski, because I figured that move might impact the Padres. And it did.

When last we met, I mentioned that I expected Kevin Towers to grab one of Pierzynski or Ramón Hernández to be his catcher in 2004. When the Twins-Giants trade went down, I suspected it was only a matter of time before the rumored Hernández for Mark Kotsay deal would happen.

Records show that this trade occurred on November 26, a full week after my article ran. Questions about Kotsay’s health held up the deal.

Now that it (apparently) has happened, what do I think of the trade? That’s a complex question. I’ll start by saying that I think the Twins did a terrific job of getting value for Pierzynski and that I wouldn’t have wanted to see my team give up a package like the Giants did to acquire a good but not great catcher. Word is the Twins wanted Jake Peavy from the Padres. Viewed in that context, I love the deal with Oakland. Kotsay is a good player if healthy (a big if) but he’s not a guy, like Peavy, around whom you build a ballclub.

The Giants, in case you’ve forgotten, gave up pitchers Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan for Pierzynski. This remains my favorite Giants trade ever.

Peavy for Pierzynski? Uh, no thanks. Although they eventually had some good times together in Chicago.

This trade interests me for several reasons:

  1. It was made between two “small-market” teams with GMs who know each other very well and who respect one another.
  2. Both teams filled enormous holes in their lineups without leaving themselves exceptionally weak anywhere and without significantly impacting their payroll.
  3. And probably the most fascinating aspect to me is that this is a deal involving three players who are essentially in their primes. All three were born within six months of one another, all have shown flashes of potential, all are likely about as good as they’re going to get, and yet it’s quite possible that at least one of them still has a “breakout year” or three in them.

I’ve been a big fan of Kotsay since he arrived in San Diego (although not as big a fan as my wife, who called me at work yesterday to ask if the rumors were true) and often thought he could have a career path similar to that of Steve Finley, who turned out to be a much more productive player in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Back injuries have a way of changing things, though, and I’m no longer as certain about Kotsay as I once was. That said, I think he’s a pretty good bet at least to return to pre-2003 levels (.290/.360/.450).

Kotsay hit .314/.370/.459 in his first season with the A’s. He followed that with a respectable encore, then spent his 30s hitting like Dioner Navarro.

I am sorry to see Kotsay go. He’s been a class act all the way, and when healthy he’s produced. He gets on base a little, drives the ball into the gaps, plays a solid center field, and generally carries himself on the field and off it the way you’d like to see all your players do. He also is a pretty heady baserunner, which the A’s should appreciate.

As for the guys coming to San Diego, I don’t know a lot about either of them. Hernández has the reputation of being a decent defender and last year finally showed something with the stick. Was this a one-year aberration, or is he just now coming into his own at the plate? Catchers often develop their hitting skills relatively late, and Hernández is entering what should be his prime, so there’s cause for cautious optimism here.

If Hernández can come anywhere near his .273/.331/.458 performance of a year ago and catch 135+ games (as he has each of the past four seasons), this will work out real well for the Pads. If he moves back toward his career numbers of .253/.322/.400 then that’s not as exciting, unless of course you’re judging him against recent Padre catchers.

Padres catchers hit .226/.294/.309 in 2003. The previous season, they hit .212/.302/.326. The names are as depressing to read now as they were then: Gary Bennett, Javier Cardona, Wiki Gonzalez, Tom Lampkin, Wil Nieves, Miguel Ojeda, Humberto Quintero, Mike Rivera. Two of those guys–Nieves and Quintero–are still playing.

Hernández has some pop, in the same sense that Kotsay does. Not a lot of homers, but a fair amount of doubles. He doesn’t walk a ton, which couldn’t have helped his cause in Oakland, where that particular skill is valued more than almost anyplace else. Looking at Hernández’ age 27 comps at B-R, I’m struck by the names of three catchers that I remember watching play: Charles Johnson, Joe Oliver, and Jody Davis.

Johnson walked and struck out a lot more than Hernández does. At age 28, coming off a .251/.340/.413 season, Johnson hit a barely believable .304/.379/.582. Oliver’s numbers are pretty close to Hernández’ through their first four years in the big leagues, but Oliver never spiked like Hernández did in 2003; Oliver missed all but six games of his age 28 season. Davis was a better hitter than Hernández at this point in their respective careers, but as it turned out, the former Cubs’ backstop was already on the downswing by age 27. The following year saw him hit .232/.300/.400 following a .256/.315/.421 showing the previous season.

A leap of Johnsonian proportions seems pretty far-fetched for 2004. A leveling off or slight decline seems more likely, given his age, his demanding defensive position, and the fact that he’ll be working with a new pitching staff. I’m looking for something like .260/.320/.430. Not great, but a fair shake better than what’s been coming out of that position since at least the first half of 2001, when Ben Davis looked like he’d arrived.

Hernández hit .276/.341/.477 but played just 111 games, missing most of July because of a strained left MCL incurred in a home-plate collision with Toronto’s Howie Clark.

Which leaves us with Terrence Long. I admit, I have no idea what to make of this guy. He had two decent years in Oakland, followed by two substandard years. Check this out:

.164 .333 .558 .069
.129 .298 .505 .076
.150 .369 .500 .082
.140 .319 .463 .064

Is it immediately obvious from this which were the decent years and which the substandard? Those actually look pretty consistent to me. Now look at this:


Long is pretty much your textbook version of the guy who needs to hit .280 to be of value. But what is the difference between a .240 hitter and a .280 hitter? Over 500 at-bats, the former collects 120 hits while the latter has 140. Twenty hits in a season. A hit a week.

That’s an oversimplification, but I think you get the point. A few more hits fall and Long is a marginally useful hitter. I’m not saying it’s great or even very good, but with a few breaks, the guy isn’t a total black hole. By most accounts Long is a terrific athlete whose baseball skills aren’t on par with his ability. He’s also a guy (like Hernández) who didn’t fit in real well with Oakland’s system and had pretty clearly worn out his welcome there.

Yeah, Long is a Padre because Kotsay is more expensive than Hernández. But who’s to say a change of scenery won’t do him some good? And before you flame me on that one, I’m not saying he’ll totally bust out and become Bobby Abreu. But he has had at least some success in the past. He has gaps power and is moving to a park that is expected to favor left-handed hitters. Is it out of the question to think that he might return to pre-2002 form and hit .280/.330/.430? Or that he might even be one of those guys whose light suddenly turns on and he hits maybe a little better than that?

Long hit .295/.335/.420 in his only season with the Padres. He spent the next year in Kansas City, then made a cameo with the Yankees in 2006 before disappearing at age 30.

I’m really trying to temper my enthusiasm as much as possible with Long, because the fact is his record is very spotty. Make no mistake, he’s a significant downgrade from Kotsay offensively (and apparently his defense isn’t all that hot either) and there’s a decent chance he’ll be riding pine before too long. There probably isn’t anything here that we haven’t already seen out of Long. But there might be.

Of course, that in itself is a double-edged sword. His athletic ability and “potential” might get him more looks than he deserves (see Kingsale, Eugene). It also might keep Xavier Nady from playing every day. Then again, who knows what the outfield is going to look like in 2004. Right now it’s Ryan Klesko in left, Brian Giles in center, and some combination of Nady and Long in right. From a defensive standpoint, I’m not at all convinced that’s going to work.

Pure, unadulterated speculation on my part: Nevin or Nady moves in a package for a legit center fielder. Don’t ask me for names, I haven’t read all the tea leaves yet. I just keep looking at this outfield configuration and can’t shake the feeling that something must change. Again, I’m not working on anything other than my own intuition, but I don’t see this happening come Opening Day.

I missed the Nevin/Nady for center fielder trade by two years. The Padres, rebuffed in their efforts to acquire Mike Cameron, signed Jay Payton in January 2004. They traded Nady for Cameron in November 2005, which I covered in three separate pieces.

My overall feeling with the trade is that it should help both clubs, although not in a way that promises to excite fans a great deal. The Padres go from a black hole behind the plate to slightly above average at that position, while the A’s take baby steps in attempting to upgrade their outfield. If Kotsay is fully healthy and returns to pre-2003 levels, then Oakland should be very happy. If Hernández repeats what he did last year and proves it wasn’t a fluke, then the Pads will be happy.

Long is the wildcard. And there is always the possibility (probability?) of further maneuvering. One thing is for sure: If the outfield remains as it is, the Padre staff would do well to pick Brian Lawrence’s brain on the art of inducing an obscene number of ground balls.

Further maneuvering? Well, they signed Akinori Otsuka, who gave them two good years before being shipped to Texas in the trade that brought Adrián González to San Diego. They signed Ismael Valdez, Sterling Hitchcock, and David Wells. They traded for Jeff Cirillo and signed Payton. They traded for Kerry Robinson.

Exciting stuff.

What Others Are Saying about the Trade

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What did you think of the trade when it happened? Leave a comment, send an email (, or hit me up on Twitter (@ducksnorts).

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  • Why not Kotsay?

  • SDPads1

    I liked the trade back then. Mainly because it was pretty well known that Kotsay had the back of a 89 year old woman. I never expected him to be playing this long.

    Also, as you mentioned, the previous crop of catchers were awful, I actually had some hope with Hernandez.

    • Geoff Young

      Yeah, it seemed reasonable for both teams. I just hated to see Kotsay go. Maybe I bought too heavily into my own Finley comp and feared he would rebound to enjoy a strong second half of his career, leaving us with the infinite sadness of Ruben Rivera.

  • KC

    Taco Tuesdays just won’t be the same without Kotsay next year!

  • Sac Bunt Melvin

    How fun, the Elephants in Oakland blog linked at the bottom talks about AJ a player. Threw me off at first. Not the most flattering, but still fun.

  • DaveRiceSD

    2 takeaways from this article for me…

    1. Wow, it’s really been 12 years since Ben Davis was (briefly) a person of note.

    2. From the point in this article that Wiki Gonzalez was mentioned, that horrible Will Smith song he used as his walk-up music played in my head while I attempted to read the rest.

    • Geoff Young

      Sorry about that, Dave. We’ve all been traumatized by Wiki in some way. For me, it’s a continuous loop of fastballs down the middle clanking off his glove and hitting the dirt.

  • The cynic in me really enjoyed this:

    “He (Long) has gaps power and is moving to a park that is expected to favor left-handed hitters.”

    • Geoff Young

      Yeah, I totally nailed that one.