Zack Cozart is a shortstop, and a damn fine one at that. Cozart, now 32, has spent each and every one of his 6207.2 career defensive innings played at the big league level at short, which can very well be interpreted as a clear sign the Cincinnati Reds found him valuable enough at that vital position to not need to move him around and potentially disrupt his play.
What’s funny now, though, is that Eugenio Suarez - the ‘shortstop’ the club once used to take over for Cozart while the latter was injured - might carry a similar designation, albeit one that calls the club’s shortstop depth into question.
In a thorough primer for next week’s Winter Meetings, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon spoke with Reds GM Dick Williams about a number of pertinent topics. It’s certainly a worthwhile read, so do that. That said, the remark that truly jumped out at me from Williams was this one regarding the overall shortstop situation.
We do need to have someone on the roster that plays shortstop without having to move Eugenio Suarez over there temporarily," Price said. "I think we like the idea of him playing third base and continuing to become an elite player at that position.
Suarez, of course, has emerged as not just an offensive force, but as a great-glove 3B since Todd Frazier’s departure. And even while top prospect Nick Senzel has impressed at every level at 3B since being selected 2nd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, the club sure seems committed publicly to keeping Suarez at the position they both played most in 2017 - 3B. On top of that, Sheldon notes that while the still unproven Jose Peraza appears to be the obvious choice to play regularly at SS in Cozart’s shoes, the current club doesn’t have another player on the roster “who could step up and play shortstop on regular basis if something happened to Peraza.”
If Suarez is indeed out of the shortstop shuffle mix, that could very well be the case. IF Alex Blandino was recently added to the 40-man roster after a solid 2017 between AA and AAA, but played only 13 games at short while profiling more as a 2B/3B at this point. Similarly, Dilson Herrera - who is out of options, too - is more of a 2B/3B at this stage of his career, and neither Shed Long or Scooter Gennett will play and SS while rounding out the current 40-man roster members of the infield (non Joey Votto edition). Billy Hamilton played short as he came up through the minors, but despite the recent decision by Seattle to convert veteran IF Dee Gordon to CF, I doubt the Reds have any inkling to move Hamilton. (And speaking of Seattle, they’ve now got Zach Vincej in their system after the Reds chose to waive that particular 40-man roster member and glove-first SS earlier this offseason.)
That’s a bit of a predicament, especially given the lack of super convincing play from Peraza defensively at short in his early career performances. Factor in that the ‘top’ free agent SS options available aside from Cozart are J.J. Hardy, Alcides Escobar, and Erick Aybar, and how the Reds sort this roster crunch out becomes a bit tougher to truly decipher.
There is one potential wild card in this, however. Sheldon himself reported last week that in Senzel’s quest to get ready to crack the 2018 Reds lineup in any way possible, the star prospect would begin getting reps at positions other than 3B - including at SS. And while that’s not likely to be the position where he’ll patrol for the bulk of his career, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin himself mentioned to manager Bryan Price that “if need be, [Senzel] could play shortstop at the big league level.”
Of course, if 53 year old Rafael Palmeiro is convinced he can still play big league ball, perhaps the 53 year old Larkin could simply fill the roll himself.