Will Middlebrooks. Pedro Ciriaco. Danny Valencia, Nick Punto, Mauro Gomez, Brock Holt. Pablo Sandoval, Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero, Tzu-Wei Lin...
Ever since Adrian Beltre’s one stellar season and the last vestiges of Kevin Youkilis’ hot corner career, the Boston Red Sox have had a revolving door at third base. Yes, that even includes Selsky, the former 33rd round draftee and longtime minor leaguer of the Cincinnati Reds who played over 550 games with the club’s MiLB affiliates - and never once played even an inning at third base.
At 55-46, the 2017 Red Sox sit atop the AL East standings and seem poised to improve upon the ALDS exit they dealt with just last year. Since GM Dave Dombrowski took over, this Sox club has become emblematic of the big-dealing profile of his future stints, particularly with their massive trade of Yoan Moncada, et al, for Chris Sale prior to the start of the season. And after cutting ties with Sandoval and the massive amount of money still left on his contract last week, it’s clear that addressing their third base issues has become the latest line on Dombrowski’s agenda.
It’s not hard to see why. Per FanGraphs, Red Sox 3B’s rank dead last in all of baseball in wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR, and aren’t particularly close to the second worst club in several categories. At one point just a dozen or so days ago, Dombrowski and Chicago White Sox GM Rick Hahn appeared close to another major trade, this time one that would’ve sent former Red and then White Sox 3B Todd Frazier to Boston, rumors of which clearly indicate that Boston is trying for a significant upgrade to the position.
Frazier, of course, ended up in pinstripes with the New York Yankees, leaving the Red Sox still on the market for an upgrade. That leads us to the report this week from CSN New England’s Evan Drellich that Dombrowski is tracking yet another Cincinnati product, this time Zack Cozart.
You can cruise through Cozart’s Baseball Reference page and find that he’s played 681 games in his big league career and never played anywhere other than shortstop. A click over to his minor league stats shows that aside from 7 games at 2B with Class A Dayton and 4 there in the Arizona Fall League, the other 477 MiLB games he’s played all came at shortstop, too. Like Selsky, he’s never once played 3B, yet Dombrowski and the Sox still appear to be interested in him.
There’s certainly a chance this is merely due diligence on a player having a career year. Considering that Boston called up top 3B prospect - and consensus Top 10 overall prospect - Rafael Devers over the weekend to give him a taste of the big leagues, there’s not guarantee Boston will even look outside their own organization for an upgrade. However, Devers is still just 20 years old, and opened the 2017 season having never played above advanced A-ball, and to date owns just 38 career plate appearances at the AAA level. In fact, there’s every reason to believe Boston’s decision to call him up is in part a bargaining tactic to suggest to potential trade partners that they don’t have to make a deal for a 3B.
Adding the Cozart that the Reds have deployed this year would add a potent bat to Boston’s already potent lineup, but would also add one of the premier infield gloves in the game. It may require current shortstop Xander Bogaerts to shift back to 3B for the short term - something he’s done before in his career - or it might task Zack with games at a new position on the cusp of his first trip to free agency. It’s that latter point that might well be what Dombrowski sees, too, since adding Cozart and shuffling Bogaerts around the diamond would be a 2017 thing only, and wouldn’t displace his talented current shortstop for good.
If it feels like you’ve read the word “Dombrowski” more times than you’d like in this, that’s on purpose. He’s not just made a habit of swinging massive deals like the one that brought Sale to Boston or Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, but he’s also made roughly a dozen deals in his lengthy GM career with the likes of Walt Jocketty, Cam Bonifay, and Kevin Towers, all of whom sit next to Dick Williams in the current Cincinnati front office. They swapped big names like Edgar Renteria and Kevin Brown, respectively, and most recently flipped Alfredo Simon for Eugenio Suarez, if you’ll remember. (That’s not to say that Williams, the current GM of the Reds, will fall blindly in-line with his former GM colleagues, but given that deep of a working history with Dombrowski, I’d wager he’ll certainly weigh their advice heavily.)
Boston’s farm system isn’t the juggernaut it once was, especially after the mammoth Sale deal and the Craig Kimbrel trade from a few years back. However, there’s still enough there that might entice Williams to pull the trigger on a Cozart deal, and it’s certainly the most tangible talk surrounding the Cincinnati shortstop this particular trade season.