Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Mark Kotsay Syndrome

Mark Kotsay joined his sixth team in his fourteen year career when he signed recently with the Milwaukee Brewers. Way back in 2002, Kotsay was a fairly valuable player. But he ceased to be valuable a long time ago and yet, every year, he signs a new contract. The Fan has nothing against Mark Kotsay. More power to him if he can keep garnering a paycheck doing something he loves. Good on him, as they say. What the Fan doesn't understand is why teams feel the need to make these kinds of moves.

So, let's pick on Mark Kotsay. According to baseball-reference.com, Kotsay has had a negative value for four years in a row and five of the last seven years. That's pretty brutal. And for most of that time, teams were signing him for $6 to $8 million dollars. At least the Brewers only paid $800,000. Kotsay has had negative defensive metrics eight of the last eleven years. It's not like he's going to be a defensive whiz for you. His only real skill at this point is that he can play four or five different positions. The question is: Do you want him to?

Kotsay is mostly an outfielder who can play a little first base. The Brewers are set this year for first base so that's a moot point. So he's an outfielder. His stats are virtually identical in either league, so you're not going to get National League bonus points. He's going to be 35, so it's not like he's going to get better in the outfield or as a hitter. Again, we are talking about a guy who has had a negative value for four straight years. The indication that tells us is that he's not going to be worth the $800,000 so all he is then is a placeholder in the outfield when someone needs a day off. Is that worth $800,000? This Fan doesn't think so.

Why not? Okay, the Brewers have a guy in Triple A (Nashville) named Trent Oetjen. He's not on anyone's top ten list of Brewers' prospects. He's not on Keith Law's Top 100. He's just a guy in Triple A who happens to hit pretty darn well. For Nashville last year, Oetjen batted .320 with a .906 OPS. Yeah, that's Triple A. But the guy isn't a big time prospect. He's just a guy plugging away in Triple A. But for half the cost of Kotsay, couldn't he be the placeholder for outfielders taking a day off? How could it hurt? If he ends up with a negative value like Kotsay, at least it will be a less expensive negative. Why don't more teams do that?

The Fan isn't picking on the Brewers in particular. For every Kotsay, there is a Hairston or an aging Molina or Gregor Blanco and a Getz. All these fringe major league players have to get raises every year they play in the majors. But the Fan has this brilliant kind of idea: Why not always have a first year marginal guy to be your utility guy? Wouldn't that be cheaper and in the long run give you about the same value?

Oh sure, for every one of these arguments, some GM could rebut that Kotsay and Hairston and Molina and others are "good clubhouse" guys that help a team gel and are like player-coaches. Folks, that's bull-tacky.Teams are going to win or lose based on performance and not "chemistry." Chemistry never helped the Finley-owned Oakland A's.

No, I think guys like Kotsay and Molina and Hairston and all the other marginal major league players out there serve as comfort food for the GMs and the managers. "Hey, at least we have a pro in there who won't embarrass us." Well, yeah, but they won't help you either. It just baffles this little mind to wonder why this happens so often and how these guys have such long careers of mediocrity.

It's not Mark Kotsay's fault. He's just hanging on and riding the wave as long as he can. The Fan would do the same thing. And it's not really the Brewers' fault either. ALL the teams hang onto or sign that veteran who "gives you some versatility." Why else would Melky Cabrera be heading into his fifth or sixth season? No, it's a disease that most teams share. For now, the Fan will call it the Mark Kotsay Syndrome. Hey, the disease has to be named for somebody. Perhaps in a year or two, we can name it for Aaron Miles.

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