Being the seventh best at being second most important isn’t exactly a glamorous way to describe someone, I suppose. In Zack Cozart’s case, it’s actually a rather apt way of summing up what he’s done while a member of the Cincinnati Reds, as it serves as high praise while also keeping him almost completely inconspicuous.
With 11.6 career bWAR to his name, Cozart ranks as the seventh most valuable second round pick in team history. If he post’s another ~2 bWAR season in 2017 - something he’s done in each of the last three years, and four of the last five - he’ll jump Milt Wilcox to be the sixth most valuable second round pick in team history. And, if he does manage to pull that off, he’ll rank just behind a pair of high-profile names from the past in Adam Dunn (16.9) and Chris Sabo (16.4).
The only three names ahead of them on this particular list? Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, and future potential Hall of Famer Joey Votto.
(Larkin, you’ll remember, was originally a second round pick in 1982, though he didn’t sign.)
This isn’t meant to be an article ranking Cozart on any all-time lists, but in an attempt to try to explain why we’ve almost completely forgotten about him, these kinds of comparisons and rankings just kept popping up. Dunn and Sabo had All Star appearances, mammoth dingers, Rookie of the Year honor, and memorable character traits to cement their legacy in Reds’ lore. Cozart, perhaps to his detriment in the eyes of modern Reds fans, does not.
He’s been a fantastic defender at a premium position for a half-decade, yet has nary a Gold Glove Award to show for it. There have been no All Star nods, no Silver Slugger Awards, few - if any - true ‘highlight reel’ plays from Cozart in his big league career. No catchy JTM commercials, no funny inside jokes or gimmicks on the field to make you routinely laugh, and no real soundbites in local media archives to sear his memory into yours.
His career has been innocuously dependable, always slightly better than average in a consistent manner. So, it would only figure that his contract situation and current tenure with the Reds should follow suit. Not only has he made a habit of being neither the best, the worst, or the spotlight player on any of his Cincinnati squads, his contract status and trade rumor meter has managed to maintain a similar level. He’s never been given a contract of the size of many of his teammates, and therefore hasn’t been judged through dollar-signed goggles. There is no huge dollar amount due him in the future to make an already bad knee injury that much more dismal to rabid fans, no financial burden or earned rights to make moving him an impossible task.
On top of that, there are virtually zero trade rumors involving him, despite the fact that the Reds have pretty clearly emphasized adding youth to their middle infield crop as part of their deep, current rebuild. Whether it’s his lingering knee pain or the glut of solid shortstops league-wide, not even trade rumors can manage to get Cozart’s name in headlines these days.
Jose Peraza, Cozart’s presumed replacement at short, has been talked about endlessly, not only for his perceived role as ‘the future,’ but for him being the centerpiece of the trade of Todd Frazier. Frazier, of course, will also go down in Cincinnati lore despite a solid-yet-unspectacular 15.3 bWAR in the uniform, thanks to his classic Dinger Derby performance and a trade that’ll be judged for years to come. Devin Mesoraco, another Cozart teammate and peer, seems destined to have his injury issues, flash in the pan 2014, and untimely contract extension define his tenure with the Reds, all things Cozart has managed to avoid, for better or worse.
In many ways, the Reds couldn’t have asked for more from Cozart during his stint with them. They drafted him highly, he rose through the ranks predictably, and in his five full seasons in the big leagues has provided 10.8 bWAR for a cost of less than $4 million, in total. It seems they brought him up at the right age, have gotten the best of him at the right time for the right price, and avoided throwing excess money his way as his peak years dwindled.
It’s almost baseball typecasting. Quiet, humble, dependable guy goes about things in quiet, humble, dependable way, posts quiet, humble, dependable career and is paid for it in predictable, quiet fashion. Then, he moves on quietly, humbly stepping aside for the next man up.
For storyline’s sake, however, I hope that’s not just how things end. I hope he doesn’t slowly get relegated to a bench role, despite my hopes that Peraza proves worthy enough to take full-time starts. Heck, I hope Peraza can claim to be worth 10.8 bWAR through his first five full seasons with the Reds.But if any current Red deserves an NL Player of the Month award, or to hit for the cycle, or to hit three homers off Clayton Kershaw, or to make a miraculous flip-relay to the catcher to tag out a Giambi, it’s the guy who’s only Baseball Reference black-ink is having humbly led the NL in sacrifice flies in 2013 - Cozart.
Like a bass player wearing sunglasses, Cozart has helped form the backbone of the Reds for a tenure long enough to deserve notice, even while being content to never catch your gaze. And since it seems more and more like his time with Cincinnati will come and go with neither pennants nor controversy, I feel we almost owe it to him to watch with a bit more appreciative eye than we have in years past. If anything, he deserves at this point for having never once asked for it.