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Kotsay officially joins Braves

Kotsay officially joins Braves

ATLANTA -- Braves players showered Mark Kotsay with praise this past weekend. General manager Frank Wren finally had the opportunity to do the same on Monday evening, when he was able to officially announce the acquisition of the center fielder he has long targeted.

Once Kotsay was medically cleared and the Commissioner's Office provided its stamp of approval, Wren was able to release some of the excitement he'd withheld since Saturday, when he had reached agreement with the A's on a three-player trade.

In exchange for Kotsay and cash considerations, the Braves sent right-handed reliever Joey Devine and Minor League right-handed pitcher Jamie Richmond to the A's. It's the type of transaction Wren had desired when he began his search for Andruw Jones' replacement, and at the same time, one that he didn't know would be possible.

"I didn't envision getting a player of Mark's quality when we first started out [looking for a center fielder]," Wren said. "He was a name on our list, but we didn't know what Oakland was going to do. Now that it's done, I couldn't be more thrilled."

While swinging the bat without discomfort over the past few weeks, Kotsay was confident that his troublesome back has finally returned to health for the first time since 2004. That confidence grew even greater Monday afternoon, when the Braves medical personnel gave him a clean bill of health.

"I feel encouraged about the year ahead and as encouraged as I've been in years about the season ahead," said Kotsay, who had a herniated disk surgically repaired in March and appeared in just 56 games this past season.

Once the Braves cut ties with Jones, Wren's desire was to find a talented veteran center fielder who could bridge the gap to the time that top prospect Jordan Schafer is ready for the Majors. He placed Kotsay's name at the top of his wish list long before he knew about his health, and the A's willingness to trade him came with an agreement to pay a large portion of his salary.

The Braves will be responsible for just $2 million of Kotsay's $7.325 million salary. If the 32-year-old veteran, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract, is able to regain the form he had before his back problems began in 2005, Wren may have found a real bargain.

"If you remember in my opening press conference, I said that we'd like to find a veteran center fielder to put on our club to bridge the gap to our younger players," Wren said. "I can't think of a better guy to do that than Mark Kotsay. Fundamentally, he's one of the best defensive outfielders I've ever seen."

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Kotsay, who has totaled a Major League-high 110 assists since the start of the 1998 season, is a determined, gritty defensive player, who was a capable offensive performer before his back started bothering him during the 2005 season.

Over the course of the past three seasons, he has hit .267 with a .388 slugging percentage and .321 on-base percentage. Entering the 2005 season, his career statistics included a .287 batting average, .425 slugging percentage and .343 on-base percentage.

Kotsay's belief that he can return to his successful form has been enhanced with the results he's seen while taking batting practice over the past few weeks. He said he hasn't felt any discomfort in his swings, and for the first time in a long time, he's waking up in the mornings without any pain.

"I feel great," said Kotsay, who said he believes he can play in at least 150 games this season.

Kotsay, who has batted .282 with .337 on-base percentage in his 11-season career, is looking for a new beginning. The .214 batting average he produced in limited and painful action this past season is just a tangible sign of the frustrations he felt over the course of the past year.

"I'm definitely motivated to go out and play this game the way that I know that I can," Kotsay said.

While saying that he is looking forward to the opportunity to play for Bobby Cox, Kotsay pointed out that players across the league view the Braves skipper's all-time record ejections total as just a sign that he's there to protect his players.

"Bobby is a veteran manager and knows how to get the most out of his players and personnel," Kotsay said. "As a veteran player, you want to lead, and when you have a great leader it becomes easier."

Wren's relationship with Kotsay dates back to 1996, when the Marlins took the outfielder with the ninth overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft. In Florida at the time as an assistant general manager, the Braves GM immediately saw a young kid who possessed leadership skills and a respect for the game.

"Having spent time with Mark, there was no doubt he was the guy that we wanted," Wren said.

In order to get Kotsay, the Braves had to part ways with two respectable pitching prospects. While Devine showed some improvement this past year, he still hasn't proven to be the reliever the Braves projected when they took him with their first pick in the 2005 Draft.

While Braves fans will always remember Devine as the pitcher who surrendered Chris Burke's 18th-inning, walk-off homer that ended the 2005 National League Division Series against the Astros, Richmond isn't as recognized. The 21 year-old right-hander went 7-6 with a 3.05 ERA at Class A Rome this year.

"To get something good, you have to get something good," Wren said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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