'We play to win': Kotsay looking to compete in first managerial season

March 12th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Since his hiring as the next manager of the A’s back in December, Mark Kotsay anxiously awaited the day he could take the field with his players. Although it took a bit longer than expected, that day finally came.

In advance of Sunday’s mandatory report date to Spring Training, the A’s held an optional workout on Friday at Hohokam Stadium. Batting practices were had, bullpen sessions were thrown, and, for the first time in his career, Kotsay experienced what it was like to run a workout from the manager’s chair -- albeit with only about a dozen players in attendance for now.

“I’m very thankful that I’m sitting here today and very excited,” Kotsay said. “There was initial excitement in the announcement that I would be managing them going forward. I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of great relationships with a lot of these guys on the roster.”

Of course, the official end of MLB’s lockout also means the transaction window has reopened. For the A’s, a club that found itself at the center of various trade rumors involving its top players such as Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas, the next month could bring major change to the roster should those talks continue.

Kotsay admitted the trade chatter is unavoidable. He’s aware of the conversations that the A’s front office started up with other clubs back in November and maintains communication with executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst on those matters.

“The focus is getting prepared for a season for all of these guys,” Kotsay said. “The distractions do exist. But I think as professionals, we come to work to prepare for the season and have success in the long haul.”

Of greater concern for Kotsay is how to deal with a shortened Spring Training. The A’s will hold their first official workout on Monday. Just four days later, they’ll open up Cactus League play against the Angels at Hohokam Stadium on March 18.

The compacted format of Spring Training is likely to make a greater impact on pitchers, particularly with the A’s younger arms who have dealt with injuries in recent years. Kotsay got a close look at newcomer Brent Honeywell Jr., who threw a bullpen session on Friday, as did A.J. Puk, Paul Blackburn and Daulton Jefferies.

“Honeywell threw the ball well. It comes out of his hand well,” Kotsay said. “Puk looks like he’s put on some good weight. Looks really physical. [He] threw the ball great.”

As the pitchers trickle into camp, A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson will collect data such as how many pitches they threw in the offseason or if they threw to hitters. That info will then go into formulating a gameplan specifically designed for each pitcher to follow in camp.

“You have to take into consideration the acceleration of a program when guys aren’t ready,” Kotsay added. “We’re collecting all that information and working backwards from Opening Day, trying to figure out the schedule and how many days we actually have and how many opportunities they’ll have to get on the mound and build their pitch count up.

“Scott Emerson has done this for 20-plus years and I’ve got full confidence in him developing that program to get them ready for a season without injury issues coming into play.”

As currently constructed, Kotsay’s roster maintains a core group of players that helped the A’s reach the postseason in three of the last four years, just missing out on the playoffs in 2021 after finishing with a record of 86-76.

Regardless of how much that roster does or does not change come Opening Day, which for the A’s now takes place in Philadelphia on April 8, the goal remains the same.

“If you’re asking me if I want to contend for a playoff spot, I absolutely do want to contend for a playoff spot,” Kotsay remarked. “That’s why we put the uniform on. We play to win.”