Shortstop Zack Cozart expected to be manning the middle of the Cincinnati Reds’ infield with veteran Brandon Phillips for the sixth straight season. Instead, the second baseman has been traded, and Cozart knows he could be next.
The Reds sent Phillips to Atlanta for a couple of pitchers last week, their latest move in a two-year rebuilding program. Cozart is among the few veterans who haven’t been traded away. At age 31, he knows he’s not part of Cincinnati’s long-term future and he could be gone as soon as another team needs a shortstop.
He thought there was a good chance he’d be dealt in the offseason.
“It was a tough market for shortstops,” Cozart said. “I was surprised to see Brandon traded.”
Since hosting the All-Star Game in 2015, the Reds have traded Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Marlon Byrd, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Phillips. First baseman Joey Votto’s big contract prevents him from being dealt.
General manager Dick Williams listened to offers for Cozart during the offseason. The shortstop avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal for $5,325,000.
“I’ve learned that a high percentage of the trades you work on don’t get done,” Williams said Thursday. “Zack has a very affordable contract. He fits in our lineup well and our organization.”
It’s been difficult for Cozart to watch his teammates get jettisoned at such a pace.
“It is crazy to think how much turnover there’s been,” Cozart said. “The unknown is the hardest part to deal with, when your name comes up in trade talks. It’s weird. Your family and friends keep asking but you don’t know anything other than what you hear or read about it.”
Cozart tore two ligaments and a tendon in his right knee while running out a ground ball midway through the 2015 season. He returned last year but was limited to 121 games because of soreness in the knee. He batted .252 with 28 doubles, a career-high 16 homers and 50 RBIs.
Cozart said the knee finally feels normal.
“It is 100 percent for the first time since the surgery,” said Cozart, who has discarded a brace he wore last year. “There wasn’t a day I felt good last season.”
Cozart is known more for his defense, which manager Bryan Price sees as extremely valuable for the team’s young pitchers.
“Zack’s an awesome player, a necessary piece,” Price said. “Pitchers want to have hitters put the ball in play and trust the guys around him. If he’s swinging the bat well or he’s scuffling, he always brings his defense.”
The Reds are ready to start seeing what they got in their numerous trades.
“The major work is finished,” Williams said. “Turnover is a natural part of the process. We are deep in pitching but, it’s young pitching.”