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.