Being in its early stages, the Tigers’ search for a new manager has encompassed a wide variety of coaches from across a number of superior organizations. Surprisingly, the majority of them are youthful up-and-comers, which would represent a bold choice for a front office group under pressure to improve the team in the upcoming years. The ring of candidates has reportedly grown to include Oakland Athletics bench coach Mark Kotsay.
The 44-year-old Kotsay has never served as a manager, but in his brief career as a coach he’s already held several roles typical of future managers. He’s clearly been groomed for that position, and if the Tigers are willing to hire a first-time manager, he’s one of the better choices available. Let’s take a look at what makes him a good fit for the job.
Many of the coaches in major league baseball started out as late-round draftees who had to fight for every chance they got in pro ball. It’s a good launching pad to a coaching career because guys who overachieved in their playing days are generally mentally tough and well-schooled in the finer points of the game in order to maximize their value. It’s also hard to get those opportunities without being excellent in the clubhouse as well.
However, that’s not a background shared by Kotsay, who was a quality prospect out of Cal State Fullerton. The Marlins made him the ninth overall pick in 1996, and he debuted in the major leagues the following year.
The lengthy career that followed was perhaps not what Miami envisioned when they made such a hefty investment in the outfielder, but 20.5 career fWAR is nothing to sneeze at. The majority of that value was produced over a four-season peak tallying 16.4 fWAR. He played closer to replacement level throughout the rest of his career, but to his credit, he managed to stay on the field across the lion’s share of two decades.
When his playing days ended, Kotsay immediately transitioned into a front office role with the San Diego Padres. The next season, 2015, he was promoted to be the major league hitting coach in San Diego. His tenure with his first club was admittedly short-lived, but the experience he was afforded as the Special Assistant to the General Manager gives him a unique edge over other candidates.
The Tigers managerial search is interest, with Mark Kotsay the latest. Some believe that his front office experience is a benefit for understanding the scope of the organizational job, and if Bob Melvin had chosen to leave, Kotsay likely would have gotten that job.— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) October 23, 2020
Preceding the 2016 season, he won the job as Oakland manager Bob Melvin’s right-hand man in a near-total turnover of the team’s coaching staff. Like Don Kelly, who is also in the running for the Tigers opening, his rise to the role of bench coach took only three years. That’s a tremendously swift ascent, especially considering the ludicrously slow pace at which managers and coaches are traditionally brought through the minor leagues. However it does reflect a growing trend of fast-tracking top candidates.
There’s not much information out there about his style as a coach, but the potential seems obvious to those in the know. He’s “known as an excellent strategist and communicator,” per an article from The Atlantic, but there just isn’t much detail available with which to speculate on his potential style as a manager. He’s transitioned into a different role with the A’s since joining the organization — he’s the quality control coach nowadays — but he’s been interviewed for a number of managerial vacancies. The Astros, Giants, and Red Sox eventually decided to go in different direction. Nonetheless, his involvement in multiple recent searches, and the trust he’s earned from highly respected figures such as Billy Beane and Bob Melvin, illustrate his excellent standing within the industry.
Is it a fit?
There’s not a whole lot of information out there about the way Kotsay goes about his business, but he’s clearly well thought of by some of the league’s best decision makers. If the Tigers decide to hire a rookie manager, he seems like one of the stronger choices of the bunch thanks to his lengthy experience as a player and good reputation. It also can’t hurt that he was drafted by the Dombrowski-led Marlins that had current Tigers General Manager Al Avila as a high ranking member as well.
The fact is that, although Avila has publicly stated that the team would be open to hiring someone without managing experience, it’s hard to see one emerging as the frontrunner. The Tigers are still waiting to interview A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora after the World Series, and they’re still expected to be the leading candidates. However, if the club does turn to a rookie manager, don’t be surprised if Kotsay is that man.