On Saturday, Mark Kotsay announced to the media that he would be retiring from Major League Baseball at the end of this season. We here at Padres Public have spent a lot of time this year cracking wise on Twitter about Kotsay and his ability to provide veteran leadership and have a korner. He has, however, been a positive contributor on the field for the San Diego Padres. We’re going to take a look back at his career, which is the least one of us wiseasses can do.
Kotsay joined the Padres in Spring Training of 2001, acquired from the Florida Marlins with Cesar Crespo in exchange for Matt Clement, Fan Favorite and Dirty Shirt Giveaway Inspiration Eric Owens, and minor leaguer Omar Ortiz. As mentioned, Eric Owens was a fan favorite, and Matt Clement was a promising young pitcher coming into his own (and would have several productive years himself, before injuries cut his career short). It was a trade questioned by a lot of fans, but Kotsay repaid the Padres’ confidence with a .291/.366/.441 slash line in his first season with the club. His 3.4 fWAR that only trailed Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko, and the former Marlins right fielder had blossomed into a plus defender in center.
In 2002, Kotsay continued to hit well and play an excellent centerfield. Posting a .292/.359/.452, and leading the Padres with a 4.8 fWAR, Kotsay was looking to be the long-term solution to a problem that had plagued the Padres in centerfield since the departure of Steve Finley in the winter of 1998. However, a collision with a Coors Field wall during a game which took place somewhere between 4/18-4/20/2003 changed the course of Mark Kotsay’s career (Kotsay’s Kareer?).
Now, I know that’s kind of vague. Honestly, I’m digging for evidence, but there’s no mention of Kotsay’s back injury until it started keeping him out of games several days later. Eventually, reporters mention a collision with the wall during the Colorado series, and that’s pretty much it. On 4/18, Shane Victorino took over as a defensive replacement for Kotsay late in the game. That’s my best guess for when the injury occurred, but he played the entirety of the next two games (and relatively well, going 3-5 with a HR and 1-4, respectively). It wasn’t until 4/22 in Chicago when we see a mention of said injury: Kotsay left the game after one at-bat, to be replaced once again by Victorino. From there, he would be listed as day-to-day (back).
The U-T also mentions Kotsay missing time in 2002 due to a “similar” back strain, but Kotsay barely missed any time in 2002. In fact, 2002 was the season in which he played the most games for the Padres (and second-most in his career), 154. The only significant time he missed was a series in New York, and game notes indicate this was due to a hand injury. I’m sure Kotsay knows when his back was hurting, though.
2003 wasn’t a bad year for Kotsay, though his back issues troubled him all season (his 154 games played in 2002 were cut down to 128 in 2003). Padres trainer Jim Daniel described Kotsay’s lower back as having an unusual curvature, making it difficult for him to stay limber. Statistics show while Kotsay’s offensive production declined a bit, he was as good as ever on defense. His 4.0 fWAR trailed only Mark Loretta‘s 4.5 for the Padres lead. As Geoff Young revisited last week, Kotsay as a long-term solution in CF was not to be; Kotsay was traded to the A’s that November for Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long.
(side note: I just discovered that Terrence Long is on Twitter. If you want to see Terrence Long baseball cards and Terrence Long selfies, have at it. Looks like that’s all he posts.)
A new pilates regimen helped Kotsay through a successful 2004 and 2005 with Oakland, but the defense was slipping. In 2007, the first of a couple back surgeries Kotsay would endure in his career. It’s hard to say a player whose career is about to wrap up after 17 seasons was cheated, but we’re talking about an exciting defender who knew how to handle the bat. It’s not unrealistic to have projected him as having a Finley-like career, or wonder if Kotsay would have remained a Padre if the back issues coupled with the opportunity to acquire a sorely-needed starting catcher didn’t arise. These are just “what if” scenarios, alas. Scenarios Kotsay seems to ponder himself, as mentioned in Bill Center’s U-T column on the retirement announcement.
We would be wise to remember Mark Kotsay’s career when we consider how injury affects players. It might be for a season, or it might plague them for the rest of their career. There is almost always an explanation for a quality player’s decline, and it’s not usually that they decided they would “suck” to personally offend you, or that they are weak-willed when rehabbing past the point you might deem necessary. Realistically, the “what ifs” don’t matter. 17 years, some of them better than just about anybody else in the clubhouse. The Kotsay I’ll remember is the guy who wore a Padres uniform in an era of elite centerfielders, and could hang with the best of them.
Well, okay…and the Korner.
The Vocal Minority stays up late on Sundays to post on Mondays. Sometimes, we post on other days. Why? Good question. We will also remember the Mark Kotsay shirsey giveaway, which is probably the highest quality clothing item the Padres have given away. If you were at that game, you still own it. And it still looks great. Cockroaches, Twinkies, and Mark Kotsay giveaway shirts from 2002. Follow me on Twitter so that you can tell me every day how much Chase Headley sucks.