ATLANTA — The Braves have their replacement for center fielder Andruw Jones, completing a trade that brought Mark Kotsay from the Oakland Athletics on Monday.
The Braves sent reliever Joey Devine and a minor league pitcher to Oakland, while the rebuilding A’s were expected to pick up about $5 million of Kotsay’s $7.35 million salary.
The deal was finalized after Kotsay, who played only 56 games last year, was examined by Braves doctors. He had back surgery last spring, missed the first two months of the season and returned to the disabled list with back spasms in August.
Kotsay said he’s completely healed and feels better than he has in several seasons. This is the final year of his contract and he’ll get a chance to audition for potential employers in 2009.
"Everything is headed in the right direction," Kotsay said. "The back feels great. I started hitting before the holidays, which is the earliest I’ve ever hit before a season. I look forward to playing in Atlanta and playing a full season again."
Kotsay was the last major target for new Braves general manager Frank Wren, who was determined to find Jones’ replacement before the team went to spring training next month.
Jones, a 10-time Gold Glover, left as a free agent for a $36.2 million, two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"If you’ll remember at my opening press conference, I said I’d love to find a veteran center fielder who would fit our club for ‘08 and put us in position to bridge to our younger guys, who’ll be ready in the next year or so," Wren said. "I can not think of a better guy to do that than Mark Kotsay."
The Braves want to give top prospect Jordan Schaefer another year in the minors before they let him compete for a starting job.
In the meantime, the 32-year-old Kotsay stressed that he’s not going to be the same type of player as Jones though he is best known for defense, recording double-digit assists six times in his career.
"I will never be able to fill Andruw Jones’ shoes, nor would I want to try," Kotsay said. "I want to come in and solidify the middle for the Atlanta Braves, be out there every day and contribute offensively as well."
Kotsay batted just .214 last season, but he said you can take those numbers "and throw them out the door" because of his back problems. From 1998-06, he averaged 141 games played, 529 at-bats, 71 runs, 11 homers, 60 RBI and a .286 batting average per season.
Since taking over from longtime Braves general manager John Schuerholz three months ago, Wren has put his own stamp on the team: signing pitcher Tom Glavine, trading shortstop Edgar Renteria, bringing in Kotsay.
The Braves, who missed the playoffs the last two seasons after winning 14 straight division titles, expect to contend in the NL East.
Oakland, meanwhile, is rebuilding. The A’s already dealt away ace pitcher Dan Haren and outfielder Nick Swisher for prospects. In Devine, they have Atlanta’s top pick in the 2005 amateur draft.
"Any time you’re willing to pay a portion of salary, it’s because you do like what you’re getting back," A’s assistant general manager David Forst said.
Devine, a hard-throwing right-hander, went 1-1 with a 6.86 ERA in 25 games over parts of three seasons and is best known for his failures. He gave up grand slams in his first two big league appearances, then an 18th-inning homer that ended the 2005 division series against Houston.
But Devine put up good numbers in the minors, including 78 strikeouts in 57 innings last season, and would have contended for a spot in Atlanta’s shaky bullpen.
"It just comes down to if you want to get something good, you have to give up something good," Wren said. "It’s one of those decisions we pondered over a few days, but ultimately we made the decision that our club really needed a center fielder."
Oakland is looking to move Justin Duchscherer, an All-Star reliever in 2005, into the rotation. If that happens, there could be a key spot for Devine.
"He’s proven at least at the minor league level that he can pitch effectively at the back of the game, but you’re talking about a guy with less than 20 major league innings," Forst said.
Chris Denorfia and recently acquired Emil Brown will get the first crack at replacing Kotsay in center.
The Braves also sent Jamie Richmond to Oakland. The 21-year-old righty was 16-7 with a 2.48 ERA in three minor league seasons but was still several years away from contending for a big league job.
Wren was relieved when he got the news that Kotsay passed his physical.
"There was a little anxious time this morning as he was going through the process and we were waiting to hear," the GM said. "We were very happy when we got the call that the doctors felt he was in good shape."