Daily Reds Obsession

DRO: What should the Reds do about Zack Cozart?


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.

43 thoughts on “DRO: What should the Reds do about Zack Cozart?

  1. 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).

    • 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.

      • 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. 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.

    • If I thought that would get it done, I’d be on board. As Colorado Red says however, he won’t take that deal. I think we’re looking somewhere around 3yrs/$40-million and probably higher.

  3. 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. The memories are short. After Votto had a complete off-season to rest his injured quad, although he didn’t start out the next year on fire, he did begin his historic hitting run after his quad rest.
    I don’t think Cozart will have a slow start to next year and he will practically repeat his 2107 season in 2018. And 2019. His new plate approach that Steve alluded to is here to stay. I might try to trade him before 2020.
    If the $$$$ and years are in line, Cozart is the Reds SS. A 3 year / $39M – $40M deal is what the Reds envision. Votto can’t provide all the veteranyness, and Cozart helps in that department.

    • *2017, not 2107. Whew. For SS, the Reds will go Back To The Future in 2018.

      • You and I have arrived at pretty much the same number… That number would be a “maybe” for me. I’d rather go 2 years at a higher AAV but I’m not sure how he and his agent would feel about 2yrs/$30-million… $10-million is a lot of money.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

      • Hunter Greene already made that decision for himself. He opted to give up hitting and focus strictly on pitching.

  7. 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.

    • This is Cozarts last real chance to make the big bucks.
      (compared to me, a rookie does)
      I do not think he does a 2 year contract.
      He may give the Reds a bit of a break, but not more the a mil a year or so

  8. If Cozart walks, then who plays SS? I don’t want Peraza there. Reds need to acquire a new SS pronto.

  9. 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.

  10. The Reds know two things that we do not (unless someone has an inside scoop): Zack’s prognosis and their payroll projections for their next good team. If his quad will fully heal and the payroll budget is big enough, QO him. His plate approach looks changed for the long term, which bodes well. Any WAR over 3 justifies the contract, especially when his leadership and example of how to change plate approach are added to it. The only young player he’s currently blocking from development is a partial block of Peraza (partial because he could get AB’s elsewhere), which doesn’t feel to me to be an inhibitor to developing the next good Reds team.

  11. I hope eveyone took notice regarding how Cozart managed his quad injuries during the 2017 season. He didn’t look pretty doing it but he managed the situation very effectively, and that was with Price inserting him in the lineup at every opportunity. Sign Cozart for 3 years if possible for a reasonable contract. I don’t think the market for a FA starting SS is out there this off season any more than it was last off season or during the 2017 season and that fact remains, the Reds have no one to effectively replace Cozart at SS and no one to replace his offensive production. Limit Cozart’s playing time from the beginning of the season to keep him at peak performance throughout the season and reduce the chance of those nagging injuries. Peraza may develop into an effective SS at the MLB level, but he doesn’t look ready right now. I like Peraza as a middle IF utility player who may develop into a starting SS, but I don’t want him starting in 2018 until he proves he’s changed his pathetic approach at the plate.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

    • The average age of decline is just that: An average, derived from higher and lower numbers. MLB players are, by definition, exceptional,and I agree that Cozart is showing serious indications that he is, just now, entering his peak years. He has an injury history that is concerning, but any player has a reasonable chance of spending time on the DL, and sensible rationing of Cozart’s playing time would probably reduce the risk of injury and give playing time to Peraza (or whoever). I say this in the belief that the Reds have a decent chance of being competitive in 2018, since the reason they weren’t in 2017–the pitching–could well be a strength.

  13. 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.

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

      • 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.

        • I believe that a team can only QO a player once under the new CBA. If he played under the QO in 2018, he would be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

    • 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

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

  15. 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

    • Si;nce you are concerned about Peraza’s defense and feel that the Reds have plenty of offense, why would you trade one of the best centerfielders in baseball?

  16. Well. well, well…

    Our old friend Tony Cingrani, came into the top of the 10th innings tonight to put out a fire after Houston went up by 2 runs. Cingrani induced a routine double play to get out of the inning and limit the damage to a marginally manageable 2 run deficit going into the bottom of the 10th inning. The Dodgers have now tied the game in the bottom of the 10th at 5-5 with a runner on 2B and are still hitting.

    I haven’t drilled down on Cingrani’s performance since the trade, but he appears to be pitching up in the zone again with success, similar to his early success back in 2012 and 2013. Of course it’s easier to pitch up in the zone at Dodger Stadium than it is at GABP. I’m glad to see Cingrani having success again. I just wish he’d been able to turn things around in Cincinnati. Hoover had a similar turnaround in Arizona this season, but other than his 11.7 SO/9, Hoover looks like he’s doing it with smoke and mirrors.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Zach Buchanan has a great article quoting multiple MLB executives on cozarts anticipated market value. I think the real question now becomes what number
    for a 2 year contract becomes a bargain?

    • An AAV of $10MM per for 2 years or an AAV of $8MM per for 3 years seems like a no brainer to the Old Cossack, but it’s not my money to spend so my opinion doesn’t amount to an ant hill of beans. From the Old Recliner, the view looks like a solid decision to lock him up before anyone else can make an offer.

      This is the team that paid Phillips $49MM for the last 4 seasons and obtained a grand total of 5.3 WAR from those 4 seasons (1.3 WAR per season). Cozart nearly matched that WAR total in just the 2017 season alone and $20MM should not even be a factor impeding the decision.

  19. 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.

    • 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!

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