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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brewers Nearing Deal With Mark Kotsay

Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday via Twitter that the Brewers are close to signing Mark Kotsay to a major league contract. Kotsay, 35, will play the role of backup outfielder/first baseman and pinch hitter and will provide veteran leadership to what is still a pretty young team. Not everyone is happy with the move, though.

Much has been made of the fact that Kotsay's deal is a major league contract as opposed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. By signing Kotsay to a major league contract Doug Melvin assures him a spot on the team and also guarantees that someone else will be cut as the Brewers 40-man roster is already full. The likeliest candidates to be cut are outfielders Brandon Boggs and Chris Dickerson.

Others have stated that at age 35 Kotsay will not be much for defense in the outfield. With Prince missing very little time, if any, at first base this year, that means Kotsay will likely see almost all of his playing time either in the outfield or as a pinch hitter. He can fill in for Braun or Hart if needed, but the Brewers should not expect much from him defensively in center field.

Melvin has long sought a left-handed power bat for the bench, but he has not found that in Kotsay. Kotsay hit a  career high 17 home runs way back in 2002. He is not known for his power, though he hit 8 home runs in 359 plate appearances last year for the White Sox. One wonders, with Russell "The Muscle" Branyan still on the market, why not re-sign him instead of Kotsay? Melvin probably figures that Kotsay would be more versatile in the field than Branyan, though Branyan certainly hits for more power.

Advocates of the Kotsay signing point to his .312 lifetime average as a pinch hitter as justification. Yet Jaymes Langrehr of The Brewers Bar debunked that argument yesterday, pointing out that Kotsay has only 99 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in fourteen years. That's roughly 1/6 of a full season. Langrehr argues that citing the pinch hitting statistic fails to prove Kotsay's worth as a pinch hitter since it amounts to roughly one full month's amount of plate appearances, and even average (or worse) players sometimes dominate over the course of a month.

So what is the outcome of the Brewers signing Mark Kotsay? They'll lose some outfield depth, for one, since Dickerson seems to be the better choice than Boggs and Boggs is out of minor league options. The Brewers gain a left-handed, veteran bat with limited power. Kotsay also provides some versatility and postseason experience (A's-2006, Red Sox-2008). Kotsay's biggest contribution to the team may come off the field, as he's known as a "good clubhouse guy" and will bring veteran leadership to the relatively young Brewers. On paper one questions Melvin's decision to sign Kotsay, but sometimes guys like Kotsay and Craig Counsell prove invaluable.

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