Mark Kotsay is an easy player to argue both ways. He can accurately be described as patiently able to work a 12-pitch at bat, and he can accurately be described as having a real hankering for eagerly jumping on the first pitch…and often bouncing it to the second baseman. He can accurately be described as having lost something in centerfield and he can accurately be described as having started at such a high level that the “poor man’s version” of Kotsay is still quite a good centerfielder indeed.
But I believe that whether your reaction to Kotsay's surgery has been “oh no!” or “good riddance!” we will all be singing a far more similar tune come the first week of April. That's because in one essential area, the contrast between Mark Kotsay and Milton Bradley is stark. That area is "fundamentals".
Bradley has far more talent than Kotsay has, but Kotsay's fundamentals are virtually unmatched in the American League and certainly not by Bradley. Almost never does Kotsay overthrow the cutoff man, something I imagine we’ll see from Bradley by the end of the season's first week. Rarely does Kotsay get too close to the wall chasing a fly ball he can't catch, something we'll remember every time we watch a ball sail over an A's outfielder only to roll back towards the infield. Kotsay is usually in perfect position to throw before the ball has even reached his glove, something we'll notice each time Bradley catches a ball flatfooted before uncorking a throwing towards (hopefully the right) base. The jump on the ball, the angle, the thinking-ahead alertness, the wise decision (and perhaps most of all the restraint) are not only Kotsay's strengths but they are also Bradley's weaknesses.
In any sport at any level, success starts with defense and defense starts with fundamentals. In baseball, nowhere do fundamentals, or the lack thereof, show up more than up the middle. On the middle infield and in centerfield, if your fundamentals are poor you just can't hide. Milton Bradley is a brilliantly talented player with below-average fundamentals and he is filling in for someone who sets the standard in fundamental play.
And that's why come April, even Kotsay's most ardent critics are going to find themselves filled with a certain amount of longing and appreciation.