Reds shortstop Zack Cozart won’t be going anywhere before season’s end, as he’s already been claimed and subsequently pulled off waivers this month, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. According to Heyman, the unnamed team that placed a claim on Cozart did so as a means of blocking him from other contenders.
The 32-year-old Cozart is a free agent following the season, meaning the only way that the Reds can receive compensation in the event of his departure on the open market would be to make a one-year qualifying offer to Cozart that would be worth a reported $18.1MM.
While Cozart isn’t exactly a household name and is a bit old relative to most first-time free agents, there’s nonetheless a pretty strong case that the Reds should go exactly that route. Cozart has long rated as a premium defensive shortstop, but he’s upped his power output over the past three seasons. And, in 2017, he’s taken his overall offensive game to new heights, turning in a superlative .309/.402/.556 batting line through 408 plate appearances. Even if Cozart were to accept a qualifying offer, his level of play in any of the past three seasons, on a per-game basis, would be well worth that commitment.
Of course, it’s also important to stress the “per-game basis” component of that line of thinking, as injuries have been a significant hindrance to Cozart since 2015. A torn knee ligament limited Cozart to just 53 games in what was shaping up to be a breakout 2015 season, and some September knee troubles prematurely ended his 2016 campaign as well. This year, Cozart’s knees have apparently held up just fine, but he’s still missed about a month of the year due to a pair of quadriceps injuries — one in each leg.
For all of the positives that Cozart brings to the table, his placement on the DL just prior to the non-waiver deadline (July 29) and the large number of contending clubs that already deploy high-quality shortstops combined to prevent the Reds from dealing him in July. That surplus of top-notch shortstops around the league could also impact Cozart’s market in free agency this winter. All of that will be part of the calculus for the Reds when determining whether to make a QO in the first place and for Cozart when determining his course of action.
From my vantage point, it’s well worth the risk for Cincinnati — a one-year deal for Cozart at that rate isn’t a bad outcome — but the rebuilding Reds may not wish to spend at that level to retain Cozart when the team has younger options it’d like to evaluate with those at-bats.