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Braves close to deal for CF Kotsay

Trade would send reliever Devine to Oakland

POSTED: January 24, 2008 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA -- Oakland Athletics veteran Mark Kotsay may be the Atlanta Braves' starting center fielder in 2008, but only if his surgically repaired back first passes inspection.

The Braves may be prepared to send young reliever Joey Devine, a 2005 first-round pick, to Oakland for Kotsay. Kotsay first must pass a physical exam.

Kotsay, 32, would be viewed as a temporary bridge between the departed Andruw Jones and the team's future in center field, Jordan Schafer, who may be at least a year from the major leagues.

Kotsay is a career .282 hitter, but he hit only .214 with one homer in 56 games in a 2007 season in which he was limited by back surgery in spring training.

"We are still looking to improve our club leading into spring training," Braves general manager Frank Wren told The Associated Press Saturday in an e-mail response to a question about the team's interest in Kotsay.

Athletics assistant general manager David Forst confirmed talks were ongoing with Atlanta. Devine, 24, has bounced between Atlanta and the minors the last three years. Devine struggled with control early in his career but posted a 1.08 ERA in 10 games with Atlanta last season and had 20 saves in the minors.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the A's would pay two-thirds of Kotsay's $7.35 million salary this season. The paper reported Kotsay isn't expected to be examined by Braves doctors before Monday.

Kotsay, who played in the National League with Florida and San Diego before four seasons with Oakland, said the trade possibility "does excite me."

"I love Bobby Cox, and I like Atlanta and the Braves, as far as the team and organization, the history they have," Kotsay told the Atlanta paper. "They've always been competitive. It's a great opportunity if this (trade) happens."

Kotsay will be a free agent after the 2008 season.

After deciding against attempting to re-sign Jones, the team's 10-time Gold Glove winner and starter since 1996, the Braves acquired speedster Josh Anderson from Houston in a trade for Oscar Villarreal in November.

Anderson, 25, could be the current favorite to win the starting job. He hit .358 in 67 at-bats for Houston last season after stealing 41 bases at Triple-A Round Rock.

Schafer hasn't played above Class A but still could compete for playing time or a starting job as early as this season. Another minor-league prospect, Gregor Blanco, could compete with Anderson, Schafer and others in spring training.

Kotsay had surgery last spring in which a portion of a herniated disk was removed from his lower back. He missed the first two months of the season and returned to the disabled list with back spasms in August.

Kotsay said he tried to return from the surgery too soon but now is fully recovered.

In his first season with Oakland in 2004, Kotsay hit a career-high .314 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs. He hit.280 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 2005.



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