Veteran Kotsay not quite ready for swan song
Accomplished outfielder can still lead; sets mind on winning World Series
PEORIA, Ariz. -- He's played parts of 16 seasons in the big leagues, worn seven different uniforms, has 1,754 career hits and has played in the postseason on three separate occasions.
San Diego outfielder Mark Kotsay, who turned 37 in December, has accomplished a lot during his time in the Major Leagues, though he's not quite ready for a sail-into-the-sunset type of swan song.
"I wouldn't say this is icing," Kotsay said of his second stint with the Padres. "My goal is to win a World Series. I'm not just continuing to play for that purpose, but I have a lot of retired friends who tell me to play as long as you can because when you're done, you're done.
"From a personal standpoint, baseball is my life and it's still enjoyable to me. If I can do it competitively, I'm going to do it as long as I can."
The Padres were more than willing to facilitate, as they were impressed with Kotsay's ability and his presence last season, so much so that the team extended him for 2013 back in August.
No one needs to remind Kotsay that he's not getting any younger.
"The naturally diminishing physical skills," Kotsay said, smiling. "The skills are still the same. I can still get down the line just fine, just not as fast. I can play the outfield fine ... but my range is probably two steps shorter than when I was a younger player. So now I try to make up for that mentally with preparation and by anticipating."
Kotsay, whose previous stint with the Padres was from 2001-03, hit .259 in 143 at-bats last season and had 13 pinch-hits, which tied him for second in the Major Leagues.
"His talent can still help us win games," said Padres manager Bud Black.
Yet, if you are looking to truly quantify Kotsay's value -- don't get the wrong idea, he can still play -- just don't bother consulting your nearest advanced metrics.
"You have got to have the right guy to add that veteran influence," Black said. "I think there's a needed blend to connect a little of the past to the present. He does a great job with his teammates, the coaching staff, offering insight on a number of areas that we need to keep progressing.
"It's a great baseball mind to help our players. He's got a great introspect on a lot of things."
There's certainly been a lot to digest for Kotsay, who was the ninth-overall pick in the 1996 Draft by the Marlins. He was traded to the Padres in 2001 where he posted a .281/.352/.420 line over three seasons before being dealt to the A's in '03.
He's played on good teams and bad teams and has had more teammates than he can ever remember. Looking around the clubhouse in Peoria, Kotsay said he sees similarities between those Marlins teams he grew up on and the many promising players San Diego has.
"All the young talent in the room is going to mature. I was part of a young team [Marlins] in '98 that was very similar and they eventually won a World Series five years later," Kotsay said. "But I see good things in this room and would love to be a part of it and see it through."
That means continuing to provide value to the team, on the field and in the clubhouse, as several of the players in the clubhouse gravitate toward Kotsay whether they know it or not.
"He definitely a huge influence in the clubhouse," said Padres reliever Brad Brach, who was a rookie last season. "I know for me personally, he made me feel comfortable. He would come by a few times during the season and he always had something positive to say. That means a lot coming from a guy who has been in the league as long as he has. I know it helped my confidence a lot."
But Kotsay is quick to say that he's not a do-as-I-do, beat-on-your-chest kind of leader.
"I don't want to be overbearing to anyone and being a burden on them, getting on people," Kotsay said. "I'm here as a veteran player with experiences through the game that have humbled me, so if someone wants to approach me about situational hitting or defense then hopefully my experience will allow me to help them."
Kotsay said Thursday that he hasn't given retirement a serious thought. He's still having way too much fun to walk away now. His body is still willing and -- small sample-size alert -- he can still play, as he had five consecutive hits to open the spring.
If this is the end, it sure doesn't feel like it.
"I never played for the body of work," Kotsay said. "I played for the respect of my peers."
Has that happened?
"I hope so," Kotsay said, quietly.