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.)
Projected 2017 Shortstop
|Red Sox||Xander Bogaerts||4.7|
|Blue Jays||Troy Tulowitzki||2.8|
|White Sox||Tim Anderson||2.4|
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.