The Mariners nearly acquired Reds shortstop Zack Cozart prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, and their interest in the veteran infielder has persisted into the offseason, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Dutton has previously reported that back on Aug. 1, the Mariners and Reds were in talks that would’ve sent Cozart and a minor leaguer to Seattle in exchange for minor league left-hander Luiz Gohara and another prospect, but the deal never materialized, as Dutton suggested that Cincinnati simply ran out of time to complete the deal after dedicating so much effort to completing its Jay Bruce trade with the Mets.
Seattle still holds interest in Cozart, according to Dutton, but the team seemingly considers a shortstop upgrade more of a luxury than a necessity. “We don’t need a shortstop,” one Seattle exec told Dutton. “We have [Ketel] Marte, and we think he’s going to be fine in the long term. Now could he benefit from some additional development time in the minors? Yes. We did that with [Mike] Zunino, and we think that really helped him. But it’s not the same. Zunino absolutely needed that development time. With Marte, we think it would be beneficial, but it’s not a must.”
If the Mariners do feel that Marte would benefit from additional time in the minors, then Cozart, on paper anyway, would seemingly be an excellent stopgap. The 31-year-old is somewhat OBP-challenged (.309 OBP over the past two seasons) but is one of the game’s premier defenders at shortstop and has demonstrated considerably improved power numbers in the past two seasons as well. Cozart hit 15 homers as a rookie in 2012 but saw that number dip to 12 in 2013 and just four in 2014. He belted nine long balls in just 53 games in 2015, though (his season was cut short by a knee injury), and connected on a career-best 16 homers last year despite playing in just 121 games.
The abbreviated nature of those past two seasons illustrates a potential area of concern when it comes to Cozart: his durability. Cozart suffered a torn ACL and LCL that ended his 2015 season in mid-June, and on multiple occasions in 2016 he missed a handful of games due to knee problems that didn’t necessitate a trip to the disabled list. However, his season did ultimately come to an end in September when his right knee forced him to the disabled list. Cozart’s final game of the year came on Sept. 10.
As for Marte, the 23-year-old looked to have solidified his place in the Mariners’ lineup with a terrific rookie season (2015) during which he slashed .283/.351/.402, but his offensive production cratered in 2016. In 466 plate appearances for Seattle this past year, Marte hit just .259/.287/.323 and saw his walk rate plummet from 9.7 percent to 3.9 percent. On top of that, he drew negative marks for his defense at shortstop. Marte debuted as a 21-year-old and played the entire 2016 season at the age of 22, so recommending some additional minor league time would hardly mean the organization has given up on him.
Even if the Mariners aren’t the team to ultimately acquire Cozart, it does seem like there’s a solid chance he’ll be moved this offseason. Cincinnati general manager Dick Williams said at last week’s GM Meetings that a Cozart trade was “something we’d have to consider” if it could put the club in a better position for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. And the Reds have a pair of intriguing middle-infield prospects in Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera that the team would like to work into the lineup in 2017, which should lead to plenty of chatter about both Cozart and second baseman Brandon Phillips as the winter progresses.