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Short Stop Era #22: Cozart's Beaux Arts?

Kinda looks like Weeks was trying to steal second base from the pitchers mound.
Kinda looks like Weeks was trying to steal second base from the pitchers mound.

In case you're just tuning in to the Reds for the first time since the end of 2004, there's been something of turnover problem at shortstop. When Zack Cozart ascended to the majors in July, he became the 20th shortstop to play alongside Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati - a fact that was acknowledged by no less than BP himself. Since then, Todd Frazier has become BP's 21st double-play partner after 2 appearances (3 innings total) at short late this season. 

Stretching back slightly further to the first year after the Larkin Era (2005), which was the gap year between Phillips and Larkin, there have been a grand total of 22, with the inclusion of William Bergolla.  Let's recognize them all individually for their elaborate attempt to set some kind of record. To get the effect of the " Kent Brockman credit roll," just whip your screen up and down with the scroll bar:

Todd Frazier, Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Cairo, Paul Janish, Drew Sutton, Chris Valaika, Alex Gonzalez, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Rosales, Jolbert Cabrera, Juan CastroDanny RicharJeff Keppinger, Enrique Cruz, Pedro Lopez, Rich Aurilia, Royce Clayton, Ray OlmedoFelipe Lopez and William Bergolla

Of those players, five have had seasons of 100+ games played at short:

1 Felipe Lopez 118 2005 25 148 648 23 85 15 .291 .352 .486
2 Alex Gonzalez 99 2007 30 110 430 16 55 0 .272 .325 .468
3 Orlando Cabrera 78 2010 35 123 537 4 42 11 .263 .303 .354
4 Jeff Keppinger 71 2008 28 121 502 3 43 3 .266 .310 .346
5 Paul Janish 42 2011 28 114 366 0 23 3 .214 .259 .262
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/3/2011.


In that Golden Age that preceded 2005, of course, the Reds had been spoiled to the tune of over 30 years of Concepcion and Larkin - a proud lineage that weathered decades of historical turmoil, includes several reincarnations of Lollapalooza.

No one is hailing Zack Cozart yet as anything close to the second coming of either. But there's at least a modicum of optimism around Cozart being the starter, assuming he's ready to go by spring training (still just an assumption at this point). Cozart's AAA line of .275/.327/.435 (close to his minor league line of .270/.332/.421) ranks him favorably among that group of regulars from the last seven seasons. His glove, meanwhile, might put him somewhere between Janish and A-Gon among regulars. Depending on how you rank them, Cozart might profile as #2 behind Janish among slickest gloves to see regular time post-Larkin. His 12-for-38 showing this summer before his injury had even the most hardened cynics racing to buy "I (heart) Small Sample Size" t-shirts (Don't steal that idea).

Things look promising for Cozart to hurtle over the bar of admittedly lowered expectations. Nineteen of the 29 short stops who played at least 81 games at the position in 2011 had an OPS+ under 100. There's no guarantee Cozart will approximate his minor league numbers next season (or ever), but if he did it would put him into Alexei Ramirez/Erick Aybar, possibly even Asdrubal Cabrera, territory. The Reds would have the position solved for a season, with at least five more years of Cozart under control. 

Similar hopes been pinned on at least one player per season since 2005. So along with Cozart going under the knife in August, there's plenty of room for skepticism. The surgery on his non-throwing arm could have no effect. It could affect his hitting. It might affect his entire game. It could turn him into Henry Rowengartner. More likely, it won't affect his right of first refusal on the SS position as long as he has his full range of motion come March. Short of trading up for Hanley Ramirez or signing Jose Reyes - both remote possibilities to the point of parody - Cozart is #1 on the depth chart.

Walt Jocketty seemed to acknowledge as much in his recent interview with Lance McCallister, saying the Reds would look for a veteran back-up in the off-season as a hedge for Cozart- someone with "a little more flexibility" than Renteria. Maybe I'm being too generous, but my GM-to-English translator says this means they want someone other than Edgar Renteria, who can be counted on to play SS, 2B and 3B. At least at this website, talk of veteran short stop signings is met with roughly the same sour reception as the perpetual hunt for a LeadOffMan.

But the Reds do need someone else who can play SS on the roster who they can also trust to take over full time if Cozart isn't healthy or tanks. Right now, that's Paul Janish or Kris Negron

The Reds don't have to go the free agent route, though it may be their preferred method. Here are the available free agents who could serve as backups and have not already been Reds short stops.

That second criteria narrows it down considerably:

Rafael Furcal - Type B
Clint Barmes - Type B
Yuniesky Betancourt - Type B
Jamey Carroll
Ronny Cedeno
Craig Counsell
Cesar Izturis
Nick Punto
Luis Rodriguez
Ramon Santiago
Jack Wilson

Not terribly inspiring, though remember: back-up. That list could favor Renteria's return, though it should just as easily favor a low-rent trade. I haven't seen the full list of minor league free agents in circulation yet, but it's likely to have only one or two names worth consideration. There's no need to dip into the Strategic Shortstop Reserve yet. Instead, we'll wait for spring and hope Cozart is up to the task of not being Casualty 22.