NOTE: Yesterday, Jeff Gangloff wrote The Case for Keeping Zack Cozart. Today, we look at the other side.

Nominally, this post is about Zack Cozart. He’s 31, an All-Star, a donkey owner, and sporting a .313/.404/.578 line on the year — he deserves two posts in a week all to himself.

But, the case for letting Zack Cozart leave has nothing to do with Zack Cozart himself and everything to do with Nick Senzel and whether or not the Reds will be competitive in 2018. Spoiler alert: Cozart leaves either way.

First, to quickly put things in perspective, Nick Senzel is hitting .317/.383/.508 in his first full professional season, and he has hit .332/.398/.548 since being promoted to AA. That’s over 493 plate appearances on the year and 292 in AA, so there’s no calling small sample size on the kid.

Assuming Senzel can keep it together over the rest of the season, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a shot at the Major League roster next spring. If you read that sentence and want to cry “too aggressive promoting,” might I remind you that Mike Leake spent no time in the minors and top prospects jump from AA to the Majors all the time. If Senzel hits in Spring Training, give him the reins.*

*There might be some weird Super 2 and arbitration contract stuff in here that I don’t fully understand that would persuade the Reds to keep Senzel in the minors regardless of ability.

But wait, you might be thinking, even if Senzel is ready, that only fills one spot on the infield (sorry Jose Peraza), wouldn’t the Reds still need Cozart to compete?

So here’s where the Reds competitiveness and as such, the hierarchy of needs, kicks in. Signing an over-30 shortstop who just turned in the best season of his life to a contract extension is foolhardy, full stop. Precedent shows that Cozart’s success is more likely to be a flash in the pan than a sustained late career turnaround. Sinking any sort of money into a crapshoot would not only burn the Reds in 2018, but also probably beyond.

So a one-year qualifying offer sounds like the best of both worlds. Round out the infield in 2018, part ways if it doesn’t go according to plan. Except that qualifying offer would have to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million and the 2018 Reds have much more pressing needs than shortstop to attend to with that money, i.e. starting pitching.

For the Reds to compete in 2018, they need to sign an ace, or at least a pseudo ace, and every dollar is going to count. Because I’ve heard his name bandied around the most, let’s use Yu Darvish.

With his injury history, Darvish will come at a discount but drastically inflating starting pitcher salaries will probably mitigate much of that. He’ll be looking to grab as long of a contract as possible, so the Reds will really have to be willing to shell out for at least four years to lock him up. Assuming the contract is backloaded as most are these days, the Reds could probably get Darvish for $15 million in 2018 (what the Cubs gave Jon Lester before his age 31 season). That would scale gradually up to around $23 million in 2022.

Adding Darvish and letting Cozart walk leaves the Reds’ Opening Day looking somewhat like this:

  • Devin Mesoraco C
  • Joey Votto 1B
  • Peraza/Scooter Gennett 2B
  • Senzel SS (or 3B)
  • Eugenio Suarez 3B (or SS)
  • Billy Hamilton CF
  • Adam Duvall LF
  • Scott Schebler (or Jesse Winker) RF
  • Darvish, Luis Castillo, Homer Bailey – Top 3 of rotation
  • Some combination of Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Brandon Finnegan, Amir Garrett or Cody Reed
  • Bullpen — Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Ariel Hernandez, Wandy Peralta, et. al.

Nothing about that roster particularly screams contender. Definitionally, it’s high risk, high reward. Cozart still isn’t the answer.

Extending Cozart a qualifying offer just to be a stop gap for one year before the Reds do whatever they do to try to compete in 2019 is just a waste of money and unfair to Cozy.

Yesterday, Jeff Gangloff agreed with me on this, writing “With the Reds most likely not being all that competitive next year in 2018, what good is one extra year of Cozart’s services for such a hefty price tag? Keeping him on the team is all about having his stability at shortstop and in the lineup when the next window to win opens. The qualifying offer doesn’t guarantee this.”

However, I’d like to take it a step further — Zack Cozart deserves a long term contract. He deserves to make more next year than he has his whole career, and then he deserves to make that again the following year. He doesn’t deserve the uncertainty of having to play out of his mind another season to prove he has earned those wages. And, as mentioned earlier, a long-term contract on the Reds’ end is foolhardy because it just hamstrings the Reds’ front office ability to work with their payroll. The instant he signs, Zack Cozart is dead weight already playing at his ceiling and guaranteed to decline quickly. The Reds just don’t have the wiggle room to pay Zack what he’s worth.

Also, on a less financial note and back to my original point, Nick Senzel should be on the Reds’ Major League roster and keeping Zack Cozart denies him that spot. Sure you can make the argument that Senzel should “develop” a bit more, but I’m more inclined to let him learn on the Major League pitching he should be facing the rest of his career.

The Reds have so many questions over the next couple years and Zack Cozart is the answer to exactly none of them. We know his ceiling and we know his price tag and the two don’t come together all that nicely for a team like the Reds.

We’ve loved having you Zack. You put the Reds’ revolving door at shortstop on hold for a bit. But the future is coming and money is tight and you already got a donkey you can ride off into the sunset. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.