2017 Reds

Finding a trade destination for Zack Cozart

As spring training gets underway, it seems like a near certainty that Zack Cozart will once again be the Reds’ starting shortstop on Opening Day. Trade rumors have swirled around the six-year veteran since last July, when the team reportedly didn’t complete the paperwork in time to send Cozart to the Mariners before the trade deadline. Despite being open to dealing the veteran this offseason to free up playing time for Jose Peraza, general manager Dick Williams still hasn’t found a match, and it’s unlikely that he will at this point.

While shortstop used to be a position in high demand, there simply aren’t many teams with an obvious need at the position right now. And many of the teams who could use an upgrade are rebuilding and, thus, unwilling to take on a 31-year-old shortstop entering the final year of his contract.

But, the point of this article is to see if there is a good landing spot for Cozart, so I’m going to try to do just that. To start, I made a chart of the projected starting shortstops for every team and their fWAR from last season. Since Cozart posted a 2.5 fWAR, he would be an “upgrade” over the players in red text. (For what it’s worth, I still considered teams above that line and didn’t believe any of them were a good fit for him.)

Team

Projected 2017 Shortstop

2016 fWAR

Dodgers Corey Seager 7.5
Indians Francisco Lindor 6.3
Giants Brandon Crawford 5.8
Mariners Jean Segura 5.0
Astros Carlos Correa 4.9
Red Sox Xander Bogaerts 4.7
Cubs Addison Russell 3.9
Nationals Trea Turner 3.3
Angels Andrelton Simmons 3.1
Mets Asdrubal Cabrera 3.0
Rockies Trevor Story 2.8
Blue Jays Troy Tulowitzki 2.8
Cardinals Aledmys Diaz 2.7
Yankees Didi Gregorius 2.7
Athletics Marcus Siemian 2.5
Phillies Freddy Galvis 2.4
White Sox Tim Anderson 2.4
Orioles J.J. Hardy 2.3
Tigers Jose Iglesias 2.1
Rangers Elvis Andrus 2.1
Pirates Jordy Mercer 1.3
Rays Matt Duffy 1.2
Braves Dansby Swanson 0.8
Diamondbacks Chris Owings 0.6
Marlins Adeiny Hechavarria 0.4
Royals Alcides Escobar 0.4
Twins Jorge Polanco -0.1
Brewers Orlando Arcia -0.2
Padres Luis Sardinas -0.2

So we’ll start from here. Of these teams, the Phillies, White Sox, Braves, Twins, Brewers, and Padres are rebuilding and/or already have their shortstop of the future, meaning we can cross them off the list. Additionally, Duffy, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with the Giants in 2015, was injured for much of last season, so we’ll take the Rays out of contention as well.

Let’s take the rest of the teams one-by-one.

For the sake of comparing the players below, here are some of Cozart’s relevant stats from last season: 

cozart-2016-stats

Orioles

At this point in his career, J.J. Hardy is a fairly similar player to Cozart. Hardy has declined with the bat the last two years, largely due to injuries, but bounced back from a 50 wRC+ in 2015 to 88 last season — much closer to league average. With declining power (he’s hit just 26 home runs the last three years after hitting 25 in 2013), most of Hardy’s value comes via his glove, as he has posted above-average marks in just about every defensive metric since his career began. Last season, the 34-year-old had six defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating of 11.2. He’s a three-time Gold Glove winner and had a solid case to be a finalist in 2016, but has the misfortune of playing the American League with several other defensive whizzes like Andrelton Simmons, Jose Iglesias, and Francisco Lindor.

In short, Cozart wouldn’t present much of an upgrade for the Orioles. Both are excellent with the glove and average with the bat, though they provide a bit of pop. But unless Hardy drops off defensively, which is certainly possible given his age, Baltimore isn’t a great match.

Tigers

Still just 27 years old, Jose Iglesias is one of the flashiest defensive shortstops in the game and turned in his best season with the glove in 2016, with 11.6 UZR and 3 DRS. However, his bat has always lagged behind a bit. After hitting .300/.347/.370 with a 97 wRC+ in 2015, he regressed to a .255/.306/.336 line last season, seeing his wRC+ drop to 73.

Although Cozart would represent an upgrade with the bat, it seems like a stretch to think the Tigers will consider another shortstop in 2017 given Iglesias’ age and skills with the glove. And they certainly won’t look to make a move before the season. Detroit is arguably a team that should consider rebuilding themselves, but if they’re in contention in July, need offensive help, and aren’t getting much production from Iglesias, perhaps they would turn to Cozart; however, this doesn’t seem to be a fit for the Reds, either.

Rangers

After three consecutive disappointing seasons, Elvis Andrus had the best offensive season of his career in 2016 at age 27, hitting .302/.362/.439 with a 112 wRC+. Although Andrus outperformed Cozart from an offensive perspective, there are legitimate questions about whether he can replicate that success. Prior to his breakout year at the plate, his best season came in 2012, when he was just average with a 97 wRC+. As Beyond the Box Score’s Joe Clarkin pointed out, there are reasons to think Andrus made strides at the plate, particularly with his monster September. That being said, there are also reasons to believe he will regress, namely an elevated BABIP without much change in batted ball exit velocity. Additionally, Andrus’ defense continued to trend in the wrong direction, as his UZR (minus-15.4) and DRS (minus-3) were both career worst marks. Clearly, Cozart would be a massive upgrade for the Rangers in this aspect.

However, if Andrus resorts back to his pre-2016 form with the bat and continues to struggle defensively, the Rangers may not need to look outside the organization for help. Jurickson Profar, the former top prospect in baseball, turned some heads with his play in the first half, as he was finally healthy and played in 132 games between the majors and Triple-A. Barring injuries or something unforeseen, the Rangers probably won’t show interest in trading for a shortstop.

Pirates

If the Reds are willing to trade inside their division (and there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be, in this scenario), the Pirates are a possibility. Jordy Mercer has been about as average as it gets at shortstop, worth just 3.8 fWAR over the last three seasons as a starter. While he rebounded from a 67 wRC+ in 2015 to a more respectable 89 wRC+ in 2016, he’s not going to scare many pitchers with his bat, as he doesn’t hit for much average or power. In the power department, Cozart is a clear upgrade over Mercer, as the latter hasn’t had a slugging percentage above .400 since 2013. Mercer has also been fairly average on defense throughout his career, but went from mediocre to poor last year, with a career low in DRS (minus-9) and UZR/150 (minus-10.1).

While Cozart is only a slight upgrade over Mercer at the plate, his glove is far superior, and he would be an obvious improvement overall. Strangely, however, Pittsburgh doesn’t seem willing to move on from Mercer; last month, there were even reports that the team is looking to extend their shortstop. Perhaps they’ll change their tune if they’re in contention at the trade deadline and Mercer struggles again, although they have other middle infield options with Jung Ho Kang, Adam Frazier, and Josh Harrison.

Royals

Alcides Escobar has never exactly been renowned for his offense. In 2013, his 49 wRC+ was the second lowest of any qualified player since the 2010 season. He proved much more serviceable in 2014 but regressed to a 65 wRC+ in 2015 and 68 last season. What always kept him on the field was his defense. Even in his worst offensive year, he still managed to provide 1.1 fWAR because of it. However, he saw a decline with the glove last year, and as a result, was barely above replacement level. Both his UZR (0.8) and DRS (minus-6) were his worst marks since 2012.

Despite Escobar’s lack of production, the Royals seem to be content with their shortstop. In fact, manager Ned Yost still batted Escobar in the leadoff spot 82 times last season. Despite defensive metrics indicating diminishing skills, the Royals picked up his 2017 option and don’t seem to be looking for a replacement right now. And when they do, they’re hoping the man for the job is Raul Mondesi. As Kansas City prepares for one more run before Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain become free agents, there’s always a chance they look for a shortstop if Escobar and Mondesi struggle again, but this isn’t a clear fit for Cozart, either.

Marlins

Adeiny Hechavarria is yet another defense-first shortstop, twice being named a Gold Glove finalist (with no wins, however). While he showed enough improvement offensively to become a three-win player in 2015, his performance tanked last season, dropping from an 87 wRC+ to an atrocious 56, the worst mark in all of baseball among qualifying players. He’s still 27 years old and could bounce back at the plate, but his drop-off may have the Marlins worried.

During the postseason, there were some rumblings about Miami being willing to trade Hechavarria for starting pitching help after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. That talk hasn’t amounted to anything at this point, and it’s not particularly difficult to see why after his 2016 performance. But if the team was pondering a move from the 27-year-old shortstop after the season, they may also look for a better option at shortstop down the road.

The Marlins went 79-82 last season and were on the edge of contention much of the season. If they want more thump from their shortstop without losing any of the defense, Cozart may be on their radar. And, of course, Miami already has a recent trade history with the Reds via the Mat Latos and Dan Straily deals. Of all the teams listed here, the Marlins might make the most sense for a Cozart trade.

***

After breaking everything down, it wasn’t hard to see why the Reds have had problems finding a trade partner for Cozart. Before the Mariners traded for Jean Segura, they seemed to be the best match, but Williams couldn’t work out a deal with Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto. A few other teams could use upgrades at shortstop but don’t seem willing to make a move at the moment. At the end of the day, it’d be a surprise if the Reds traded their shortstop before Opening Day, but as the season unfolds and injuries occur, interest in Cozart could pick back up when the trade deadline approaches in July.

39 thoughts on “Finding a trade destination for Zack Cozart

  1. I know you eliminated them both, but I’d still try to engage SD and TB in talks. From what I understand, TB is planning on moving Miller to 2B to replace Foresythe. But I also read Miller wasn’t thrilled about this idea, and he’s generally been a poor defender. If TB moves Duffy to 2B they could add Cozart and Miller could play at DH/1B. SD just a couple of weeks ago was said to still be considering a SS upgrade. Cozart offers an upgrade as a stop gap and allows them more time to develop their young SS. He won’t break the bank in salary or prospects.

    • Also, Duffy has a very short tenure as a SS. One (probably more) of the competing teams will have a SS injury or underperform. If Cozart stays healthy and performs well, this could set the Reds up well for a mid season trade. I hope the same for Duvall.

  2. A key injury in ST or the beginning of the season to a SS from a contending team will dramatically increase the interest in Cozart. Hopefully he doesn’t get injured himself, that would really hamper any trade value he might have.

  3. Reasons I don’t want Cozart traded—

    1. He won’t bring much of anything in return RIGHT NOW.
    2. We need the depth, even in a rebuilding year. If Peraza or Herrera flounder you need a fallback option. Without Cozy, our middle infield would go from a strength to a weakness. With so many question marks with the pitching, we need to give them a fighting chance.
    3. Expand the list of trade partners by playing him at 2B and 3B this season. Contending teams overvalue good glove guys who are versatile with some pop.

    • Totally agree, Sultan. There is no need to rush a trade or dump Cozart who has value. For the reds, he can also be part of a serviceable three-man rotation with the two youngsters–and take some of the pressure off Peraza or Herrera if either fails to perform as desired.

    • Wholeheartedly agree. I don’t want the Reds to be the team trading out of desperation. Keep everyone fresh, showcase Cozart around the infield, and let him help the kids learn their craft (at the risk of sounding veteran-y goodness). Our bench is automatically better, and if Cozy goes all Jay Bruce streaky like he’s done before, his trade value will be even higher at the mid point of the season.

  4. I guess I don’t understand why Cozart was middle of the pack last year with similar (actually worse) #s then BP and BP was supposedly bottom of the heap at 2B? I don’t know how much range Cozart can have when he blows out a knee every other year?
    They might as well play Zack and see if Herrera forces their hand at Lville. I would bat Cozart 7th and Hamilton 9th so their obp struggles wouldn’t hurt as much.

    • The answer to why is defense and defensive value. You are correct that Cozart and Phillips had similar, almost identical, offensive value, but defensively, there was no comparison between the two players. Even on a knee ‘he blows out a knee every other year’, Cozart provided excellent defense as Matt clearly documented. Cozart also played a position with higher defensive value. In terms of WAR, Cozart had a 1.4 dWAR for 2016. Despite Phillips’ stellar historical defensive record, he offered no defensive value in 2016, even playing a position with inherent, albeit lesser, defensive value.

    • Cozart is still an elite defender. Phillips posted negative defensive numbers. Cozart had 2.5 WAR versus Phillips .9 WAR. Cozart had a .172 ISO and 7.3 BB% versus Phillips .125 ISO and a 3.1 BB%. Phillips had a better batting average, but Cozart was a better player overall, in the field and at the plate.

  5. The Reds (read Price & Jocketty) certainly did Cozart a serious disservice last season by over-extending him physically after his serious knee injury, surgery and off season rehab. During the first month of the season, Cozart’s .911 OPS (fueled by his unsustainable .387 BAbip) masked the severe injury from the prior season and incited an over-reliance on the delicate knee, still encased in a precautionary brace, by management. Cozart played in 20 of the 1st 28 games last season while he surged to his extraordinary start. Rather than enforcing regular precautionary rest for the injured knee, Price utilized Cozart even more by playing Cozart in 75 of the next 76 games. Unsurprisingly, the knee reacted accordingly. During his final 28 games of the season, Cozart was visibly struggling physically with the injured knee. Despite reduced playing time for the remainder of the season, the damage had already been done. Cozart limped to a .546 OPS during the teams final 60 games of the season and was eventually shut down for the teams final 20 games of the season.

    Any team needing a starting SS for 2017 would be justufiably skepticle of Cozart’s health based on his late season performance in 2016. If Cozart proves that the knee is fully recovered and he is ready to pick up again from his 1st half performance of 2016, there will be a starting SS job on a contending team awaiting his services. Just like the opportunity to trade Phillips emerged for a team needing a starting 2B, the opportunity will emerge to trade Cozart, possibly as early as spring training, once Cozart demonstrates that his knee is again healthy and ready for regular play. His above average bat and his stellar defense for a starting SS can not be ignored by a competing team with a hole at SS due to an injury or significant lack of performance at SS. Unlike the Phillips trade, the Reds will have a hot commodity (a qualified starting SS at a bargain salary) and will be dealing from a position of strength in a limited sellers market. We just have to be patient for the opportunity to arise.

    • @ Cossack…I’m glad you pointed out the overuse (and the result of it) of playing Cozart as much as he did, last year. Price did the same thing with Phillips the last two years, when he was dinged up. Each time BP was rolling and Price would overuse him (after terrible HBP’s), causing his overall numbers to look worse than they really were.
      Somebody need to get in Price’s ear about overusing some of his players that are mending or need rest.

      • Even more infuriating, for a lot of the time they should have been giving Cozart days off they had Peraza up with the Reds and rotting on the bench.

        • THIS. THIS. THIS. We knew last year Cozart wasn’t in the future plans and hopefully Peraza was. If they played Cozart less and Peraza more, I don’t think we would be here now. Zach may have already been moved, and we really would have a better idea of what Peraza could do long term. Even if Cozart was not moved, he would have had less wear and tear on his body coming off an injury plagued season. This move, along with not having anyone on the roster who could back up first base (remember that one?) are two ‘moves’ I will never understand.

  6. I bet JJ Hardy’s performance is going to fall off a cliff this season. Reds need to keep an eye on the O’s farm system.

    • Hardy was the first guy I thought of too, because he has been hurt quite a bit over the years. The Reds aren’t going to get a lot for one year of Cozart, but if the Orioles are contending, they might get interested if Hardy gets hurt.

    • O’s don’t have a ton to offer off the farm. Also, as an O’s fan, Hardy/Cozart is pretty much a wash to me. I’d only want the O’s to deal for Cozart if Hardy gets hurt in ST or early in the season. They are very similar players and watching Hardy play defense last year, I think he’s standing pretty far back from the cliff.

  7. I asked this at the very end of the BP thread: is there any chance the Reds prioritize work on Peraza’s development at SS by moving Cozart to 2B until he’s traded/Herrera forces the issue by tearing it up at Louisville? It might help Cozart’s trade value, too.

    (Alternate scenario: play Cozart at 3B, and try Suarez at 2B. In 2018 or 2019 the best Reds team may well have Peraza at SS, Suarez at 2B, and Senzel at 3B. And if Herrera is a better bet than Suarez, Suarez would then be a very flexible bench bat or trade chip. And again, we’d be upping Cozart’s trade value.)

    • The Old Cossack was of the same mindset as Tom Diesman, that the Phillips trade did not necessarily mean a promotion to the 25-man roster for Dilson Herrera, with Peraza moving to 2B from a utility role with Cozart starting at SS and Herrera beginning the season at AAA. DW has since come out publicly with the stipulation that he wants to see Herrera at second and expects Peraza, Herrera & Cozart to rotate in middle infield this spring. That could mean just spring training or could mean April and May at GABP. I still think that Herrera would be best served playing full time at AAA until Cozart is dealt and opens a full time starting 2B position at the major league level with Peraza as the starting SS.

      The good news is that pitchers and catchers report today so we will be evaluating actual baseball moves and performances very soon.

      • Thanks for the info Cossack. I hadn’t seen those comments from DW. I sure don’t want Herrera wasting time on the bench with the big league club to open the season, and I really want Peraza to start getting the bulk of the playing time at SS.

    • Suarez started coming into his own during the 2nd half of last season at 3rd Base. I doubt they want to uproot him again.

      • VA: I agree, but Senzel is on his way and he’s not going to play 2B. And Suarez’s offensive profile would be above average for a 2B.

        • Agreed…Senzel will play 3B when he comes up, the real battle (eventually) will be between Suarez and Herrera for playing time at 2B. Suarez is proven, we’ll see what Herrera is capable of. I say he probably starts the season in AAA barring any injury to Peraza or Cozart between now and opening day.

        • One thing I’ve learned from betting horses through the years is that there is no point developing an opinion until you have to.

          The Reds don’t have to decide what to do with Senzel and Suarez yet, so there isn’t any point in committing to anything. For example, if Suarez blossoms as a hitter as I expect him to, then he may well move to a corner outfield spot when Senzel arrives. But why not see what develops before worrying about it?

        • Actually, Senzel did play quite a bit of 2B in his amateur history. It isn’t out of the question he’d play there. It’s not likely but it isn’t as far fetched as you seem to be making it out to be.

  8. If we don’t trade Cozart before the season starts, I still think the best option would be to have both Herrera and Peraza on the Reds. Have Herrera playing the bulk of the time at 2B, and keep Peraza in a super sub role starting at least one game a week at each of SS, 2B, CF, and LF. On the days where Peraza doesn’t start, he’s the first pinch hit option off the bench. I’d play Duvall in RF a little as well, so that Peraza splits his time in LF taking time away from both Schebler and Duvall, that way each of them is still playing in a corner OF spot 145 or so games out of the season. Not to mention that someone is bound to get hurt at some point, and when they do, you reshuffle appropriately. The last thing I want to see is Peraza settling in at 2B and then the Reds refusing to move him to SS because he has “established himself” at 2B. We need to find out this year if Peraza can be the SS long term, and we won’t find that out with him not playing SS.

  9. I’d turn Cozart this spring into a Ben Zobrist/Tony Phillips guy, playing everywhere including the outfield. Anybody with a good enough glove to be a very good defensive major league shortstop can play any position.

    It makes more sense to use Cozart that way than Peraza, because (1) Peraza needs some stability to allow him to find his hitting groove, and (2) it makes Cozart more marketable. Cozart ought to like it, too, because it enhances his chances to play a few more years.

    • Agree with what you said above about the Reds not having to commit to anything yet. Also, loved the betting horses analogy.

      • I agree with you LW. I’d also add that playing Peraza at SS, while moving Cozart around lets you determine if Peraza is good enough defensively at SS. If you find out he isn’t, at least you still have Cozart to go back to, and Peraza can go back to the super sub role or play 2B.

  10. I think Cozart’a eventual suitor could very well be none of the teams mentioned. An injury in spring training (or early in the season) could necessitate a trade by a contender, much like how the Sean Rodriguez injury led to the Braves’ renewed interest in Phillips.

  11. Off topic but Reds may have stolen one today… They picked Lisalverto Bonilla off of waivers from the Pirates. He’s got a chance to make the MLB bullpen better in 2017.

    • Well there goes the open slot on the 40-man roster, but I agree with you LW. This looks like a good pickup for the Reds.

      The 26-year-old Bonilla was signed for just $575K and is still pre-arb eligible. He lost the entire 2015 season to TJ surgery, but logged 111 IP at the AA & AAA levels last season, logging 9.6 SO/9, 0.5 HR/9 & 2.95 SO/W. He could be a serious contender for a bullpen role in GABP not only this season but for multiple (5) seasons through his prime performance seasons. Of course during the past 2 seasons, Bonilla has also been released by the Rangers, Dodgers and Pirates, so there are definitely questions surrounding his performance, but another low risk signing by the Reds.

  12. I’d like to see the Reds play Cozart some at 3B and some at 2B, as well as SS, so they can market him as a utility player. As Matt’s (excellent) post demonstrates, a lot of teams put effort into having a great shortstop. Sure, there’s always the chance of injury, but Cozart still has to be better than the local backup and any other SS being shopped.

    To increase the number of possible fits, playing those other positions would help. A contending team looking to add a great glove who can still swing a decent bat might see value in Zack on the bench.

  13. Per Big5Ed: There is a difference between betting horses and trading Cozart. As a co-owner of two race horses, when they run, you have about 25 minutes to develop an opinion. Cozart probably gets two or three months.

    • True, but the “don’t-form-an-opinion-until-you-have-to” thought was about not needing to form an opinion about where to play Suarez when, down the road, Senzel becomes ready.

      I suppose they’ll trade Cozart when a team develops a need for him, which hasn’t happened yet. Cozart can play a useful role in the meantime,plus the Reds can do things to make him more marketable, such as play him at different positions.

  14. I thought the approach by Suarez hitting last year hurt his development! He tried to muscle up and hit for corner infield power! He may develop some more pop as he matures but he is a doubles hitter that will give you 22 to 26 HR’s a year playing half his games at GABP! He is a very sub-par defensive player but his arm is not the issue he has plenty of arm if he quits thinking about what he is doing and just does it he will be fine at 3rd but he still needs to think contact and the alley when he goes to the plate!

  15. LW LOGGER2 pointed out something of interest concerning Senzel. This was also mentioned on MLB network. BASEBALL AMERICA gave the list of top prospects…Senzel was 8. Their comments regarding him were that he could actually play not only at 2b, but SS! This was news to me…perhaps even a bit of a reach?
    Can’t say I have seen him play, but generally speaking the trend is to move guys all over and play them at positions, at times, which they may not be so good at defensively.

    I have read a few comments concerning Peraza, that he is no CF’er. That may also be a bit of a reach, but he certainly isn’t BHam out there. At the risk of seeming ‘old skool’, moving guys all over the place isn’t really a great idea, except for the very few guys that are especially gifted.

    So, while I think Suarez could play 2b, what’s the point? Isn’t that Herrera’s spot to lose at this point? And isn’t Suarez just getting settled at 3rd, like someone above pointed out? Is Senzel really that close? Maybe ST will answer that, but this org, typically has been very slow to move guys up on the ‘fast track’. Let’s see how Herrera does and whether or not Cozart makes it out of ST on this roster before we start playing chess with all our pieces.

    • Just before the draft, Senzel’s college coach said that he thought whichever team drafted him should try Senzel at shortstop before settling on him as a 3B.

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