With Neil Walker nowhere to be found on the free agent market and Sean Rodriguez recently signed in free agency, it becomes increasingly likely that the Angels will turn to the trade market to fill a need. The front office has maintained their commitment to fielding a competitive team next season, and there is little reason to believe the Angels will be without a new second baseman on Opening Day.
Zack Cozart is one such trade target.
Who is he?
Cozart is an exceptional fielding shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. By both Fangraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s calculations of WAR, Cozart has averaged 2 WAR per season since entering the majors - significantly better what the Angels could find on the free agent market.
Though he pales in comparison to Simmons, Cozart is a defensive wizard and has averaged 9 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 7 UZR (ultimate zone rating) over his six seasons with the Reds. He isn’t familiar playing second base, which is a major problem. However, it’s not too late for him to learn a new position, as his strong instincts, athleticism, and arm accuracy would still translate to second base. Acquiring Cozart would also give the Angels one of the best middle infields in baseball with Trout, Simmons, and Cozart.
Cozart is a below average hitter, and that would not change should he end up in Anaheim. However, he has improved recently, posting a 108 OPS+ in 2015 and a 92 OPS+ in 2016. He will have to work extensively in the batting cage, but at 31 years old, it’s not out of the question for him to improve as a hitter.
Are there any red flags?
One red flag is his durability, though. He suffered a torn ACL and LCL which cut short his 2015 and a multitude of knee issues sidelined him in September. Cozart is definitely talented, and his injuries mean he would cost less than he otherwise would.
As mentioned earlier, Cozart has a light bat and it’s possible that his above-average offensive 2015 performance cannot be matched if he has not healed completely from surgery. His 2016 might just be a positive outlier as his career OPS+ is just 82, and as he ages (he will be 31 next year) he may regress to the mean.
Entering the last year before he hits free agency, Cozart has an incentive to do well in order to make some money for himself in the free agent market. But it’s unclear whether he would embrace a position change in order to play for a better team at the expense of his future paycheck.
What is his cost and availability?
Prior to last season’s deadline, the Reds were set to ship him off to the Seattle Mariners for left-handed prospect Luiz Gohara but ran out of time to complete the trade. The two were interested in continuing talks this offseason before the Mariners acquired shortstop Jean Segura four days ago.
Now with only a season of team control left, Cozart will come at a significantly lower cost than Seattle would have given up. Most teams already have their shortstop position solidified, which means there would be no bidding war. In addition, the Reds would like to get prospects in return and want Jose Peraza to play shortstop on a daily basis.
The Angels don’t have much to offer in terms of prospects. Though he hasn’t played much in the minors yet, Kyle Survance Jr. is a speedster that can flat-out run, stealing 17 bases en route to a 139 wRC+ in rookie ball (thanks to a .426 BABIP). Though he could eventually be a useful piece, the Angels have seen enough college players fall on their faces within their organization recently and perhaps they make a move to strengthen the lineup for 2017.
Even though Cozart would have to make a position change, he could be a viable option even with his age and injury risk.