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Now Batting Third: Casey Kotchman?

03.23.10 at 11:58 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Seattle Mariners offseason was rightly hailed for some savvy acquisitions, most notably the three-team deal that landed ace Cliff Lee in Seattle and the long-term deal that will keep Felix Hernandez atop the M’s rotation for at least the next five years. There was also the signing of Chone Figgins, which the Mariners believe will fortify their already stout defense.

Indeed, a defensive upgrade was also at the heart of Seattle’s desire to acquire first baseman Casey Kotchman from the Red Sox. Yet while there are few questions about Kotchman’s glove, it was more than a little surprising to see word trickle out of Arizona that the Mariners are considering Kotchman for the third spot in their batting order. From M’s manager Don Wakamatsu, per the Seattle Times:

“It gives us a guy, with [Ichiro] and [Figgins] at top of the lineup, who is not a double-play guy in general, a guy who can move those runners along. And for me, it backs up Milton [Bradley] to the four-hole and gives us a little more depth that way.

“[Kotchman] is a guy that’s not that prototypical power hitter. I think that haunts a guy, too. You try to be something you’re not. We’re asking him to just be a good hitter. He’s always been that.”

Kotchman, of course, endured significant struggles after being relegated to part-time duty after being dealt from the Braves to the Red Sox at the trade deadline. He hit .218/.284/.287/.572 in 95 plate appearances for the Sox, and his numbers in Atlanta before the trade in ’09 — while better (.282/.354/.409/.764) — left the Braves feeling that they were in need of an offensive upgrade in the form of Adam LaRoche.

In fairness, the Sox viewed Kotchman as a fine and underrated player. The team was open to the idea of having him be its everyday first baseman, with Kevin Youkilis moving to third. The team believed that he had untapped offensive potential thanks to an excellent minor league track record, one fine big league season in 2007 and an advanced command of the strike zone.

That said, the Sox also viewed Kotchman as a bottom-of-the-order hitter. All but two of Kotchman’s starts with the Sox came in the bottom third of the lineup. Had he remained in Boston, there is little question that he would have continued to reside there, as Sox manager Terry Francona suggested during the winter:

“I’m a big Kotchman fan. I think Kotch kind of goes under the radar because he came over and he didn’t play and he didn’t say anything and he just kind of went about his business. We can do just fine with Kotch playing first, hitting down toward the bottom of the order and catching everything in sight. I’m pretty comfortable with that.”

Now, the Mariners could be seeking more from the former first round pick. While the shape of a lineup may or may not play into what kind of run production a team will have (some mathematical models have shown that if you more or less pick a lineup out of a hat, you’d do little to affect its performance), the fact is that the third spot in the order is typically reserved for the player whom a team perceives to be its best hitter. That being the case, the idea that Kotchman — even accepting that he does have upside — could end up being placed in a lineup spot of such prominence does appear, at the least, surprising.

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