Call me crazy, but I think the A's will get a substantial boost from the return of that declining cripple, Mark Kotsay. If Kotsay's surgery left him feeling good and able to play everyday--a big "if" right there, but so far so good in his rehab assignment--his return to CF could have some important implications. Let's assume that Kotsay and Bradley return together later this week, understanding that we need to enjoy Bradley while we can because his track record is, well, consistent. Here are some of the reasons might look up beginning Friday night:
* I know Kotsay is oft regarded as a guy who used to be able to hit .300 but no longer can. I'm going to go out on a limb--and I realize I may well be wrong, wrong, and more wrong--and say that once he gets the rust of the edges (give him up to two weeks) Kotsay will hit .300 for the rest of the season. That optimism is based on my observation that Kotsay has, in fact, hit .300-when-his-back-feels-ok every season with Oakland. It's just that each year with the A's, Kotsay has played through back pain more and more, and Kotsay hits about .150 when his back is hurting (you can always tell because it looks like he is swinging with a heavy bat, and he fouls a lot of pitches off to the left). If Kotsay hits around .300, he will be a worthy #2 hitter and suddenly you have the chance to put a lineup like this out there:
Johnson/Cust (when hot)
Chavez (could bat 7th until he is pain free)
That's a decent 1-2 punch at the top of the order, a good 3-4-5, a 6-7-8 in which the hitters are actually worthy of their spots in the order, and Kendall. It's not a great lineup, but it's not a bad one either.
* Kotsay adds an element the A's have been sorely lacking, and that is a hitter who is fundamentally sound. Kotsay will generally get runners home from third with less than two outs, and he'll make productive outs (moving a runner over) in front of the RBI guys. The A's have missed this a lot lately.
* By anchoring CF, Kotsay allows others to play at their best positions--including the option to play Swisher at 1B where his superior defense has really been missed.
* Kotsay is not just a fundamentally sound player, he's a team leader who will help demand fundamentally sound play of his teammates. I see everyone's defensive play improving when Kotsay returns, partly because more guys will be in positions that they play better and partly because leadership is a real, if intangible, concept.
It will also be mucho nice to have Duchscherer back to close games and allow Embree and Calero to settle back into set-up roles. It will be terrific to have Bradley back for as long as he lasts, and it will continue to be a major problem to have Kennedy in the rotation as not-the-worst-starter. In the balance I don't know what it will all add up to, but for now I'm ready to believe that while Bradley and Duchscherer are better players, it's Kotsay who will provide the glue that holds the A's together for their annual Summer rise from mediocrity to contention.