Posted on June 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
After a brief stint on the DL with a strained quad, the Cincinnati Reds activated shortstop Zack Cozart from the 10-day DL on Friday. On the surface, Cozart’s return means that the Reds have one month left to showcase him for a possible trade. It makes sense that a free-agent-to-be like Cozart would be on the trade block this summer for a team sitting at the bottom of the NL Central. However, Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams indicated Friday that the team could pursue a contract extension with Cozart to keep the shortstop in Cincinnati beyond this season.
“I know there’s mutual interest in the future with Zack,” Williams said of a possible extension with Cozart. “Maybe we can figure out a way to make that happen.”
The comments from Williams come as a surprise to many. The Reds first appeared open to trading Cozart last summer, nearly pulling the trigger on a deal. They continued to entertain the possibility over the winter. Now with the club out of contention, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Reds would try to trade Cozart to help acquire young talent.
Cozart is in the midst of a career year. Before going on the DL earlier this month, he was hitting .320 with an OPS of .966. On the season, Cozart has contributed nine home runs, five triples, and 16 doubles. Those numbers have only boosted his trade value, potentially making him a hot commodity this summer. However, Cozart’s breakout season may also have the Reds thinking that he could still be an important part of their future.
The thinking coming into the season was that Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera would be Cincinnati’s middle infield tandem of the future. Peraza has been inconsistent offensively this season while splitting time between shortstop and second base. Herrera has struggled to stand out in triple-A this year, although he’s battled minor injuries all seasons.
Williams says that the struggles of Peraza and Herrera this season have not been a factor in the team reconsidering its future with Cozart. Williams insists that both players are still part of the team’s future despite subpar seasons to this point. The change in position may have more to do with Cozart showing that he can be a player the Reds can build around.
“We’ve obviously entered a phase where guys are coming up and earning jobs, guys we want to get looks at,” explains Williams. “But it’s also important to have some stabilizers on a team.”
Of course, the Reds may need to act quickly. Cincinnati doesn’t want to allow Cozart to reach free agency without an extension. That gives the Reds a month to either work out a deal to keep him or trade him.
The Nationals and Diamondbacks are two contending teams that currently have injured shortstops, making them possible destinations for Cozart. The Orioles may also be looking to upgrade at shortstop. Other factors could impact the market for Cozart, bringing more teams into the fold. The possibility that the Reds could offer him an extension may actually help them in trade negotiations with other teams.
Williams also acknowledges that Cozart may prefer to explore his options on the open market this winter. At age 31, this is likely his last chance to score a lucrative, long-term contract. Williams also says that the Reds would be looking for a hometown discount if they were to sign Cozart to an extension. Cozart won’t say whether or not he’d go for that, but he’s at least willing to talk about it.
“I guess that’s the million-dollar question right there, literally,” says Cozart. “Do you feel comfortable taking less, or do you want to test the waters? I don’t really have much to say on it. I hope that conversation happens, and we’ll see.”
The possibility of Cozart signing an extension with the Reds adds an interesting twist, as the summer trade season likely to get underway soon. However, as Cozart returns from the DL, it still seems more than likely that he’ll be traded within the next month. If an extension is going to happen, it needs to happen soon; the clock is ticking for both sides.