After writing about why I wouldn’t sign Eric Hosmer on Monday, I thought I’d take a look through the top free agents in search of what might be a smarter, more realistic use of money—just in case the Padres are interested in shelling out some dough this winter, that is. In the end, after hemming on Alex Cobb and hawing on C.C. Sabathia, I landed on one name: Zachary Warren Cozart.
Cozart isn’t really my cup of tea at first glance, as he’s coming off a career-year and is already 32 years old. That’s the right combo for a big offseason contract and subsequent underperformance, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a team not yet ready to compete. The good news: Cozart isn’t really treated like a slick-fielding shortstop coming off a five-win year, and the Padres are perpetually looking for an answer at the position. The Reds couldn’t trade him over the summer and then didn’t even give him a qualifying offer after the season, and MLB Trade Rumors—which has him ranked as the 13th best free agent—projects him to get a reasonable three-year, $42 million deal. (Others, like Jon Heyman, Jon Heyman’s expert, and Dave Cameron have him in a similar price range.) Cozart is the rare free agent who flies all the red flags of a potential overpay yet remains comfortably underrated.
Cozart’s really had two different careers. From 2012 through 2014, he was well below average offensively, rarely walking while showing just occasional pop. He was still close to an average player just based on a good glove at short alone, as he racked up 35 DRS over that stretch. Since then, Cozart’s remained a solid (if steadily declining) gloveman, but he’s morphed into a better than average hitter. Counting his breakout this past year, he’s posted the fourth-best wRC+ (114) among regular shortstops since the start of 2015. In 2017, he doubled his career walk rate (12.2 percent) while also easily notching career highs in ISO (.251) and wRC+ (141).