It’s a tie game. Leadership has one point, and chaos has one point. It’s up to Mark Kotsay to put leadership ahead once again. In 2010, the Padres had a clubhouse full of leaders. Players like Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Stairs, and David Eckstein were the veteran presence that team needed to remain grounded. Eckstein and Stairs were the elder statesmen, and Gonzalez was the young leader. All of them were gone after the 2010 season. For 2011, the Padres had the plan of bringing in Orlando Hudson as their veteran leader to replace Eckstein and Stairs. They had heard nothing but good things about him. That plan failed.
Hudson probably gets too much heat. To be handed a team and told you are the leader is a lot of pressure. Add to that the fact that Hudson was tasked with leading a losing ball club, and the pressure got to him. Hudson didn’t do anything (that we know of) to tear the club apart, but he certainly didn’t help hold them together. He didn’t provide that leadership, that accountability check, the Padres hoped he would. Now, they turn to Mark Kotsay.
Kotsay was once a very talented outfielder, but his skills quickly diminished. He has managed to hang on in the league based on his leadership alone it seems. He certainly hasn’t hung on based on his prowess at the plate or his ability to field. In the last three seasons, Kotsay has OBP’s of .327, .306, .329. He hasn’t cracked 100 on wRC+ since 2004 with the A’s. And in 2011, Kotsay swung at almost 30% of the pitches outside the zone - not an encouraging sign for an aging back-up outfielder. On the defensive side of things, Kotsay has managed a career DRS of 2. While that’s not the most horrible figure – there are plenty of players who have negative DRS for their career – it’s far from the numbers necessary to effectively play the outfield in PETCO Park.
The Padres knew all this going in. They also knew that he once was a fan-favorite in San Diego. They know he is 35-years old and has been in the league 15 seasons. Mark Kotsay is not an everyday player. He is not a platoon player. He is the 2012 version of Matt Stairs.
In 2010, Matt Stairs got 111 plate appearances, mostly pinch hitting duties. Yet, he was considered one of the most vocal leaders in the clubhouse and helped inspire that team to 90 wins. Kotsay could be that guy for San Diego in 2012. Similar to Stairs, Kotsay will be relegated to pinch hitting for the most part. He may make the occasional spot start in the outfield or even first base, but with the log jam in right field and at first base, it’s unlikely he will get much time as a starter.
But no matter his play, no matter the number of at-bats he gets, Kotsay brings something immensely important to a team full of young players. Kotsay brings experience and wisdom. He’s been in the league long enough to know many of the current pitchers these players will go against on a daily basis. He’s played for enough teams to get inside the head of the opponent. His experience level puts him in a position to command respect and to command a locker room. When necessary, Kotsay will surely hold players accountable for “dogging it,” speaking out of turn, or for simply having bad attitudes. That’s the type of leadership this team needs.
It shouldn’t take long. By the end of spring, if all goes well, Kotsay should be the Padres clubhouse leader. He should be able to deliver a fatal blow to chaos and tip the balance of power back towards leadership. By the end of the season, the Padres hope the score will read: Leadership 2 – Chaos 1.