The Reds activated shortstop Zack Cozart from the 10-day DL today, as had been expected. While that seemingly removes any remaining obstacles to a trade involving the pending free agent, Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that it’s also possible the club could first pursue long-term contract talks.
“I know there’s mutual interest in the future with Zack,” president of baseball operations Dick Williams said. “Maybe we can figure out a way to make that happen.” While that comment perhaps left some ambiguity as to whether near-term extension talks were truly being contemplated, Williams went on to say that “we need to at least initiate some discussions now” given that Cozart will be fielding offers in free agency once the season is over.
Cozart, who’ll turn 32 later this season, said recently that he would have interest in remaining with the only MLB organization he has played for beyond the current campaign. Clearly, then, both team and player are amenable to exploring a new contract. But that hasn’t yet occurred, Williams tells Buchanan.
While talks of some kind now seem likely, a new contract still appears to be a bit of a longshot. Cozart has played extremely well this year while earning an affordable $5.325MM salary, enhancing his appeal to the incumbent team but also increasing his future earning power and trade value. For the rebuilding Reds, cashing in Cozart’s next three or four months for prospects — which seems all the more plausible with the Diamondbacks and Nationals losing their regular shortstops to injury — holds obvious appeal.
While Williams says the organization values the presence of the veteran shortstop, he has also overseen a series of deals in recent years that brought in interesting and youthful middle-infield options. Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, and Dilson Herrera are all at or near the MLB level. While Suarez has lined up at third, it’s worth bearing in mind that the organization also has premium hot corner prospect Nick Senzel on the fast track to the majors.
In the aggregate, there’s an argument to be made that the Reds shouldn’t have much real interest in pursuing an extension with Cozart. But the team could see if he’s willing to take something of a hometown discount and hope that the roster is ready to begin contending in the near-term. (Improvements in the pitching staff will likely be required for that to occur.)
Of course, it’s only fair to note that a plausible extension scenario also functions to enhance the Reds’ trade leverage to some extent. Interestingly, Williams also noted that he has yet to field calls from other clubs looking into a possible deal for Cozart, though that’s sure to change over the coming weeks. Even if Cozart is dealt, the good vibes could conceivably lead to a reunion via free agency. The veteran’s ultimate market value will obviously depend upon his performance down the stretch and the level of need around the game come this fall.