This week’s respondents are Chad Dotson, Wes Jenkins, Jason Linden and Steve Mancuso. Plus, making a return to the pages of Redleg Nation is our guest, Nick Doran, who wrote a terrific weekly column during the 2015 season.

Our Daily Reds Obsession: What should the Reds do about Zack Cozart? 

Nick: Thank him for his service as he packs his bags. He had a great year at the plate for the first time in his career at the age of 31. He is highly unlikely to do it again. He’s been injury prone the last few years as well. The Reds can’t afford to give him a $17.4 million qualifying offer because he just might take it. Just let him go to a team that can afford to overpay an aging, fragile player coming off a career year. Zack is a great guy and solid player who just priced himself out of Cincinnati.

Chad: Nothing. And it’s hard for me to say that, since Cozart has enjoyed such a fine career with the Reds, capped off by a truly brilliant All-Star campaign in 2017. But he’ll be 32 next year, and offering multi-year deals to 32 year old middle infielders (whose names aren’t spelled j-o-e-m-o-r-g-a-n) doesn’t seem to be a wise use of resources. Ask me again tomorrow, however, and I may let sentimentality cloud my judgment. After all, everyone loves the guy in Cincinnati (remember the donkey?) and there’s a decent argument to be made that Cozart — who was a 5 win player last year — will be worth that much money over the next three seasons. So, if he’ll sign for those terms (not a day longer and not a dollar more), I think you can squint and justify the signing. But the wisdom of such a contract will depend heavily on (a) whether Cozart can remain healthy, and (b) whether the Reds are ready to compete immediately (if they aren’t, why spend so much money on a shortstop?). I’m not particularly confident on either point.

Wes: Ideally, the Reds should rewind the clock to whenever it was the Mariners wanted Cozart, trade him, and then I wouldn’t have to answer this question. But the Reds rarely traffic in ideals, so I’m going to say extend Zack a one-year qualifying offer. Maybe he accepts it and then yay! The Reds have a competent shortstop for another year, and while he takes up too much payroll, at least it’s only a year. If he declines, then yay! The Reds get a draft pick and Jose Peraza gets another couple months to prove he isn’t a total dud. The qualifying offer is the armchair philosopher’s win-win.

Jason: Let him go. I know, emotionally, we all want to re-sign him. But despite (and to some extent because of) his career year, he is practically bathing in red flags. His age. His injury history. His sudden change in fortunes. He’s simply not a player a team can count on when they’re trying to return to contention.

Steve: Zack Cozart had the 15th best wOBA in the major leagues last year — ahead of Anthony Rizzo and Cody Bellinger. Normally, when a player has such an outlier of a season so late in his career, you suspect a fluke. I kept expecting him to regress back to his career numbers. Cozart never did. His second half was as good as his first. His strikeout-to-walk ratio got better as the year went on. So there’s a solid reason to believe 2017 was a new, better, Zack Cozart — he notably changed his approach at the plate. Cozart doubled his career walk-rate. He cut the number of pitches he swung at, particularly those out of the strike zone, dramatically. He hit for average and power. But the timing of the Reds rebuilding cycle doesn’t match up with Cozart’s aging curve, so you let him leave and cheer like crazy for him on another team.

25 Responses

  1. Sandman

    Is there a prevailing belief that when a player turns 30 that it’s time to get rid of him? I liked most of what Steve was talking about. Mainly the part that talks about Cozart’s change in approach (which I guess would suggest that he can keep it up). So, I’m reading this thinking, ok…somebody making an argument to keep him. Then, Steve takes a sharp right turn at the very end. I think it gave me whiplash. Thanx for that Steve I’ll send you the doctor’s bill (jk).

    • KDJ

      I know that not everyone would hold to this, but there is a frequent theme of . . .
      Under 26: He’s young; give him a chance to improve.
      Over 28: He’s old; get rid of him.

      • Sandman

        KDJ, Oh, wow, so some consider 28 old, now?

      • Andy

        It’s baseball’s broken economics. Under 26: $500K/yr. Over 28: arbitration, escalating toward $8M/yr and then free agency. Unless you’re a superstar that sells tickets and jerseys, then you’ll be replaced by $500K guy.

  2. cfd3000

    Two years, $25M. Here’s my thinking. Cozart did not have a fluke year, he made fundamental (and therefore potentially lasting) changes at the plate. The knee is much better and the quad will heal (see Votto, J.). There is no one remotely comparable in the Reds system so letting Cozart go creates a big drop in overall offense, and probably a modest drop in defense as well. If 2018 is one of those wonderful years where everything comes together then Cozart’s bat could mean the difference between playoffs or not. If Cozart won’t sign or the Reds choose to let him go, both perfectly understandable, then yes, cheer hard for his continued success with his next team. And start the search for the next young Reds stud shortstop. Here’s hoping either Cozart or that next guy, whoever he may be, makes a difference in the Reds’ fortunes in the next couple of years.

  3. Lee Carter

    Wish him the very best and let him walk. Trade a couple of young players for a young shortstop who can hit and let him develop with a young core of players; its time to fish or cut bait with some of the younger position players especially if Senzel is moved to middle infield. If you suggest they do the same with the outfield with Winker ready to assume left field.should be a fun off-season, come on Dick Williams and prove your mettle.

  4. Sliotar

    I like Wes’s thought the best on this subject, though I don’t think a $ figure as high as the qualifying offer is necessary.

    When Ozzie Newsome was at the top of his game as general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, he had a reasonable strategy with pending free agents: make them an offer, but tell them, “If you can beat it on the market, we wish you well. If you want to look around, then come back and accept our offer, we welcome you back with open arms.”

    I don’t think there will much of a market for Cozart. Perhaps he accepts 1/10M or 1/12M, and could be a chip to flip for contending teams at the trade deadline. Peraza could still be blooded at SS with Cozart around only for next season.

  5. Ethan L

    I would consider inking him for 1-2 years. However, in the end, I think I’d let him go. This would then beg the question who is the next SS?

  6. Scott Carter

    Let him walk. I would like to say resign him to a short term team friendly contract but as it does not look like we are going to contend in 2018 you have to ask why? Go with a younger cheaper player. Just don’t handcuff yourself with sentimentality.

  7. scottya

    I just did a search on baseball reference for shortstops (fielding stats) and there are four Shortstops in all of baseball over the age of 32, who had any significant playing time at SS: Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, Adam Rosales and JJ Hardy.

    I do believe that Cozart will perform well at SS over the next 3 years if he doesn’t get injured. But in 2020 he would be 34 and likely the oldest SS in all of baseball.

    I would not make the qualifying offer. I would consider a 2 year deal at a reasonable price. 2 year 22 million, that allows zack to walk away after 1 year.

    But after the search. I’d prefer to work out a trade for Tim Beckham or wilmer difo without giving up too much.

  8. Kettering Reds Fan

    Returns to what I proposed the last time this topic came up.

    (1) No QO. Not now, not ever – even for a marquis arm. The money can be better utilized. And, remember, a QO is a preemptive move – negotiation immediately leaves the room.

    (2) Let him test the FA waters. He’s -earned- that privilege. It’s at least 50:50 that the market will not show him the type of package he/his agent expects. Most of the places that -do- have the money also have quality at the position and FA money is too much for a platoon or backup guy.

    (3) Then come back and offer a short to medium term (preferably only two year) deal with :
    (a) a mid-range base salary
    (b) a lot of incentives for PA and WAR above a threshold
    (c) options for Cozart to leave or buyout if he can find a better deal midseason or 2019
    (d) option for the club to leave or buyout if things don’t play out in 2018, or if they’ve figured out a working succession plan.
    (e) option on another donkey.

    (4) Platoon him, with the goal of 110-120 games/year plus any call to the bench. Use the other 50+ games to tryout the various alternatives.

  9. Scott Carter

    I agree with what you are saying, the fly in the ointment there is “Price inserting him in the lineup at every opportunity.” I doubt if that would change in 2018.

  10. KDJ

    Though it may not be the typical ages for players, I think Cozart may be at the beginning of his peak production years. I’d be glad to see a 2-yr deal if the terms were not extravagant.

  11. Timmy RedLeg

    I like the idea of offering the QO. If he takes it, fine. We have a good SS. for ‘18. If he doesn’t, then so be it. We probably don’t expect much out of him beyond ‘18 anyway, & we get the draft pick, which I believe will be somewhere around pick #70. That’s not nothing.

    • bouwills

      Indeed, that’s not nothing. Letting a talent like Cozart leave the organization without any compensation at all—- that’s a big nothing.

      • Kettering Reds Fan

        At 17MM+ for a QO, that’s a -lot- of money. And at the end of the year, either (a) you contract him, (b) you have to QO him -again- at the same or higher price (c) he still goes FA without compensation, (d) you trade him but the other team demands you pick up most of that comp as an inducement. That’s 10-15MM without any compensation other than what you might garner in a trade.

        Now pursue the modest proposal I lay out. Now you are down in the 10MM range – less if you trade, even picking up a bunch of the comp. Guesstimating that you are probably 5-7MM better off if he stays and 12-15MM if he doesn’t take the offer.

        That sum buys a -lot- of controlled talent and, if spread over multiple players, reduces the risk involved in otherwise settling for a single (high round, one hopes) draft pick in your system

        Oversimplified, yes. And please don’t hold me to the numbers – I’m just doing improv here – but it’s the concept, not the number down to pennies. Cold equations and all that. And, for the record, I’d prefer to keep him for another year if it is feasible to do so at something less than a ludicrous price.

      • Kettering Reds Fan

        Point taken. I’d forgotten about that.


    • JoshG

      and if he takes it (and stays healthy) and the reds are competitive next year… could potentially get a nice return on a trade at the deadline next summer

  12. Steven Ross

    Let him go. Injury prone now plus too much bank. Need to be forward thinking and signing Cozart would not.

  13. Ron Payne

    Have to agree with Kettering Reds Fan. Let him see what’s out there. If teams seem reluctant to sign him, then consider offering him a short term deal.

    I think Peraza’s offense is less important on this team than his defense. We will have plenty of offense. My main concern is his defense. I would consider including him in a package deal for a CF or SP.

    The TB Rays have a young shortstop at AAA-Durham that I think would fit perfectly on this team. Willy Adames. According to the experts, Adames is an above-average defender with a strong arm. He also had decent offensive numbers in 2017.
    30-2B, 5-3B, 10-HR, 62-RBI, .277-AVG,.360-OBP

  14. cupofcoffee1955

    What a WS game tonight won by the Astros, 7-6! It was a classic!

    Regarding Cosart, I agree with Chad, do nothing. I would hate to see the Reds sign him to a deal and then he would go on the DL sometime in 2018. People would be screaming next year about bad contracts. This year for $19 mil, we got 6 wins from Homer.

  15. bouwills

    On 7/14 Cingrani pitched a perfect inning vs the Nats @ GABP, lowering his ERA to 2.55. Over the next 12 days Toni pitched 4.2 innings vs the Nats, the Dbacks (twice), @ Cleveland, & @ NYY. He gave up 9 ER, with 5HR & his ERA balooned to 5.64. After pitching a scoreless inning for the Reds @ Miami, he was traded to LA. He resumed the same kind of year he was having before July 16 with the Dodgers. Matter of fact, if you remove those 6 appearances from 7/16 -7/26, Cingrani had a great year. There was no turnaround. Toni is being properly utilized by LA & has a good ML career to look forward to.

  16. Tom

    I’m of the opinion that the Reds need to ask for a last look from Cozart and be willing to offer a slightly below his best FA offer to retain him. My guess is that two years, 25m, and an option year will do it. Maybe the Reds pull the trigger and maybe they don’t, but that’s what I’d ask for – a last look.

    I do think Cozart made fundamental changes at the plate that raised his performance. If he defies his age for 2 years, this puts the Reds in a highly competitive position offensively and defensively.

    Think about the Reds offense with Winker and Senzel getting regular at-bats, Duvall getting regular rest, and Hamilton deployed situationally and part of a 4-5 man outfield rotation. Oh, and Votto and Suarez are pretty darn good. And Barnhart is excellent behind the plate and competent as a batter.

    Now, if the Reds can’t afford Cozart and the targeted pitchers they want, go for the pitchers and wish Zack luck. But, if they can still get the pitchers they want and keep Cozart for another couple years, I say go for it.

  17. bouwills

    I don’t profess to know a lot about baseball, or the Reds. But could someone please point out another opportunity where the Reds can acquire a 5+ WAR player who plays a position where the Reds don’t yet have a suitable replacement, in which they’re only liable for 1 year at $17+M , can trade him if they want in late July, but if Zack doesn’t want the Reds QO, the Reds keep the money & still get a 2018 draft pick that’s at least in the top 75 picks? Anyone please.

    • IndyRedMan

      Its a gamble either way with Cozart? To me the cons outweigh the pros, but if he plays 3 more years at anything like last year then it would be a huge mistake to let him go! I just think that a .933 ops was such a crazy jump that its not even close to sustainable. Add to that he’ll be an old 33 next season. He’s had multiple leg/knee injuries and his range is pretty limited now. Plus I think Suarez could be an average SS defensively and Senzel would be Cozart’s much younger offensive replacement and doesn’t have to sit 2-3 games a week!