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Where will Zack Cozart play baseball next season?

Most folks are speculating about where he might go at the trade deadline. I’m worried about where he might sign as a free agent.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Cincinnati Reds
Zack Cozart home run trots will be used as front page pics as much as possible until July 31
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

I’m assuming most of y’all are aware of how incredible Zack Cozart has been this season. I’m not really going to linger on that, but I do wanna drop it here: he’s hitting .321/.400/.566, he’s still playing his Gold Glove defense at shortstop, and he started the All Star Game for the National League.

This has developed into an interesting situation for both him and the Reds. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season and he’s pretty much the Last Man Standing among the old guard of Reds that did all that winning in the first half of this decade (aside from Joey Votto of course, but he isn’t being traded). The Reds have been shopping him around so they might get something in return before his contract is up, but they haven’t really found many interested buyers. It’s weird.

Reportedly, they just about had him traded to the Mariners a year ago, but it fell through at the last minute. I’m confident they will find a match for him over the next week and a half, but that’s not what I wanna write about here.

See, I’m thinking about where he might sign as a free agent over the coming winter. Just as the Reds have had some troubles finding a match for him in trade, there aren’t many matches for him as a free agent, either. Most every team in the league is either set with a younger or better or younger and better alternative. Here is a list of all the teams in the league and what their shortstop sitch looks like:

SS sitch

BOS Xander Boegarts
TBR Tim Beckham
NYY Didi Gregorius
BAL JJ Hardy / Manny Machado
TOR Troy Tulowitzki
CLE Francisco Lindor
MIN no great options
KCR probably rebuilding, but maybe a fit
DET Jose Iglesias / probably rebuilding
CHW Tim Anderson
HOU Carlos Correa
SEA Jean Segura
LAA Andrelton Simmons
TEX Elvis Andrus
OAK rebuilding, Franklin Barreto
WSN Trea Turner
ATL Dansby Swanson
NYM top prospect Amed Rosario
MIA rebuilding
PHI rebuilding, JP Crawford
MIL Orlando Arcia
CHC Addison Russell
PIT Jordy Mercer
STL Aledmys Diaz
CIN Jose Peraza?
LAD Corey Seager
COL Trevor Story / Brendan Rodgers
ARI Chris Owings / Nick Ahmed / Ketel Marte
SDP rebuilding, but maybe
SFG Brandon Crawford

There just aren’t that many reasonable landing spots for him. I think Minnesota is the most likely candidate, and you might even see him traded there in the next few days. But they have a good young shortstop prospect in Nick Gordon who is only about a year away, and they might not wanna lock up Cozart long-term and block Gordon. The Royals are losing a ton of their core players in free agency this winter, Alcides Escobar included. But they may elect to move toward a rebuild instead of signing a thirty-something shortstop. And even if they don’t move toward a rebuild, they will likely prioritize re-signing their own players like Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.

Aside from that, there is a chance a non-contending team like the Padres or Marlins might sign him as a stop-gap, but take a look at the list there. The league is incredibly deep in shortstops right now. Even the young rebuilding teams are just keeping spots warm for top prospects like Franklin Barreto (A’s) and JP Crawford (Phillies). It could turn into a really long winter for Cozart.

This might be one of the factors that is motivating the Reds to kinda maybe possibly sign him to a contract extension. They could be approaching his agent with that angle, illustrating just how scant the potential options for him look. Of course, to Cozart’s potential benefit, there only needs to be one team sufficiently interested for him to get the payday he deserves, but even that is looking kinda risky.

So if I’m the Reds, here is my play: keep shopping him at the deadline coming up. A potential trade partner doesn’t need a long-term solution at shortstop, so contending teams like the Astros and Diamondbacks and Red Sox who could use a good player like him might be totally willing to pay the price for him. The trade market for him should be robust enough. But come winter time, I’m coming back to him with a modest but reasonable offer to come back to Cincinnati where he seems comfortable. Get a nice prospect for him in trade, but it seems quite possible you can also thread that needle and get him back as a free agent. The Reds have the roster flexibility and the available cash to make that work.

Who knows what’s going to happen, but if I’m Cozart’s agent I’m already working the phones to grease the wheels. I’d be worried if I was him.