The story goes that Zack Cozart is still a member of the Cincinnati Reds because there just simply hasn’t been a great market for shortstops of late. He was nearly moved to the Seattle Mariners at last year’s trade deadline before that deal fell through, reportedly because the Reds simply didn’t like the offer enough. Then, of course, the Mariners - the one real team with known interest in adding a shortstop - went out and didn’t just trade for Jean Segura, but lobbed a $70 million contract his way, too.
Current 10-day DL stint aside, it seems the Reds’ decision to hold on to Cozart for a bit longer has been a wise one, as he currently leads NL shortstops in All Star voting while hitting .320/.404/.562 in his 255 plate appearances this year. Making just a hair over $5 million bucks in his final year of team control, the 31 year old has done seemingly everything to market himself as the go-to upgrade at one of the most important positions on the diamond, a luxury item that will obviously be on the trading block for the rebuilding, last-place Reds.
What’s interesting at the moment, however, is that teams have already begun to address their middle infield woes. Just yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to acquire a glove-first shortstop making just a hair under $5 million this season, one who comes with little team control and is currently sidelined on the 10-day DL. It wasn’t Cozart, however. It was former Miami Marlin Adeiny Hechavarria, the 28 year old who’s slated to be a free agent after the 2018 season whose 2017 OBP of .288 and SLG of .385 look eerily similar to the career OBP (.289) and SLG (.385) marks owned by Cozart prior to his breakout 2017 season.
There’s no public acknowledgement that the Rays had any interest in adding Cozart, though they absorbed the entirety of Hechavarria’s salary for this season despite again operating on a payroll that ranks near the absolute bottom of the league. It may well be that the decision to add Hechavarria was specifically calculated since they could do so without shedding any prospects of value, as neither of the two players they sent to the Marlins ranked among their top 30 prospects, and the addition may well serve as a mere stopgap until the likes of Matt Duffy and Brad Miller - other middle infield options - return from injuries. In other words, adding Cozart at the price the Reds would demand might well have been urge overkill given their needs.
Regardless, it’s the first real movement in the shortstop market this year, one that still appears to feature stalwarts or promising youth at the position on each of the teams currently in contention for postseason spots, once again an obstacle in the way of an otherwise obvious move for the churning of the rebuilding Reds.
Injuries could still change that landscape, of course. The Baltimore Orioles are attempting to get by with JJ Hardy on the DL with a broken wrist, the likes of Ryan Flaherty (also on the DL) and Ruben Tejada (.182/.250/.242) failing so far to fill in for the veteran. Outside the box thinking could, too, such as if the Boston Red Sox chose to finally solve their terrible 3B performance by temporarily sliding Xander Bogaerts back over - he spent much of the 2014 season at the hot corner - and brought in Cozart for a 2017 run.
Still, in the finite, 30 team MLB universe that becomes even smaller when you whittle it down to just the teams in contention while Cozart’s still under contract, a team adding a non-Cozart shortstop slims the market by a very meaningful suitor. That’s what happened yesterday, one more thing to force Dick Williams and the Cincinnati front office into more mental gymnastics to find a way to cash-in on Cozart for the rebuild’s sake while they still can.