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Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Official: A's Send Mark Kotsay To Atlanta For Reliever Joey Devine And Minor Leaguer

The A's traded Mark Kotsay to Atlanta for RHP reliever Joey Devine and a minor league pitcher, Jamie Richmond. Devine was a first-round pick in 2005 out of North Carolina State, where he set a single-season record for saves at that school. He's been up several times in brief stints with the big club with generally terrible results, despite being the closer for the AAA Richmond Braves. Devine stuck around on Baseball America's top ten lists in 2005 and 2006, only to fall off in 2007 ($ for all those BA links). He's got a track record of back injuries that causes an inconsistent delivery; in Bill Bailew recently tagged him as a ROOGY setup man who can't get lefties out reliably (yet?).

As for Mark Kotsay, his back injuries were well-known to readers of this blog; he went down in August and never came back. The Braves are looking for a hole-filler for Andruw Jones, and while I'm not a competent judge of the NL East, from memory their offense looks pretty tattered without Jones in the lineup. Atlanta can't be counting on Kotsay to deliver too many games, nor to bat leadoff, because he's really suited to neither capacity.

The final piece in the puzzle is Richmond, essentially a 31st-round throw-in. He's no great shakes, but like Joe Saunders, he lives by controlling the longball. He's worked out of the pen and as a starter, so there's some flexibility built-in. On the other hand, he played out his age 21 season for Rookie-A Rome last year.

Overall, this looks like a swap for immediate needs, and maybe for the A's it works out in the longer term. Devine's value had sunk so far so fast that the Braves decided to turn him into a trade chit, and the A's ended up eating some of Kotsay's contract to get rid of him. Call it a wash with some mild upside for Oakland.

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Just so's you knows,
The Braves ranked 3rd in the NL in runs scored last season and 6th in OPS. That's with only 54 games of Mark Texiera, who posted a 1.020 OPS after replacing Scott Thorman/Jarrod Saltalamaccia/Julio Franco at first base and their respective .652/ .745/.636 OPS. Andruw Jones chipped in with an embarrassing OPS of .742. So to say that the offense was "in tatters" without Andruw is pretty inaccurate.

Going forward, One would hope that Kotsay could at least duplicate Andruw's performance, and from the 8 hole in the lineup be a lot less detrimental to the offense. Reasonable people might also expect a continued improvement from Jeff Francouer in 2008, who went for .782 in 2007, and probably a big upswing for Brian McCann, who dropped from .960 in 2006 to .772 in 2007 while battling shoulder and wrist injuries.

Of the possible negatives, Yunel Escobar (.837) takes over for Edgar Renteria (.860) at SS. It will be his first full season, and some drop off in production might reasonably be expected. Also, he will no longer be available as back-up to the terminally injured Chipper Jones, a job that will fall to either an untested youngster (Willy Aybar, Martin Prado) or a career journeyman, Omar Infante. Also, it seems unlikely that Matt Diaz will maintain the exceptional production of last season, when he OPSed .865 while platooning with Willie Harris. He will most likely platoon again, this time with rookie Brandon Jones, a complete unknown at the ML level.

So, all told: Frenchy and Baby Huey will probably improve; Chipper, Tex, Johnson, and Kotsay (as substituted for Andruw's 2007 perfomance) will probably maintain; Yuni, the left field platoon, and the back-up infielders may see declines. The positives outweigh the negatives here and I like the chances of the Braves to improve their offensive production in 2008, perhaps rising into the top 3 of OPS and maintaining a top 3 in runs scored.
Thanks for filling in the blanks.

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