Jays From the Couch examines the likelihood of the Toronto Blue Jays pursuing Zack Cozart to help their infield issues
The Toronto Blue Jays are in need of infield help. We know this. They aren’t sure that they will get a full season out of Troy Tulowitzki and they have even less of an idea how many games Devon Travis can contribute. In some way, shape or form, this team will have to address the Jenga situation that is their middle infield. If you are a regular listener of the Jays From the Couch Radio podcast, you will have heard Zack Cozart‘s name mentioned several times by our listeners. Readers of this site have also written his name a few times.
So, it is worth asking if the 32 year old soon to be free agent short stop is a realistic target for Toronto as they wade into the waters of this offseason.
It is easy to see why Blue Jays fans would be interested in acquiring Cozart. He’s coming off an All Star appearance (some people will do anything for a donkey from Joey Votto) and a season that saw him produce 5 fWAR. His .297/.385/.548 line led to a wRC+ of 141. He hit a career high 24 home runs and tied his career high of 63 RBI. With an increase in power (career high .251 ISO), one would think that strike outs would have been a problem as they usually are with more homers. According to Fangraphs, Cozart struck out at a rate of 15.4%, which is a tick below his career average. Oh, and he walked more, too! Now, his defense has slipped from previous years, but he did put up 2 DRS.
Considering the above, you can see why several folks want the Blue Jays front office to offer up a deal to bring the short stop to Toronto. There is legitimate concern over whether the Blue Jays have enough depth to withstand another season infested by injury bugs. Despite the ankle injury to Tulo being a one off type of injury, people still stress over his legs, playing in Toronto. Even though Mark Shapiro squashed that, people wonder if Tulo will hold up. And, who knows if Travis can take the field for even a comfortable amount of time, whatever that is at this point.
What Will it Take?
MLBTR put out an update on the Cozart situation and it is a mixed bag of theories. On the one hand, it is thought that he would have a hard time seeing a contract that he might be seeking. Using the J.J. Hardy 3yr/$40M deal from a few years ago as a comp, the feeling is that Cozart would be lucky to see something like that. On the other hand, MLBTR feels that he should see three years and $33M- 36M range.
That seems a bit pricey for a Toronto team looking to get younger and more athletic. Free agency is difficult to find youth. And, at 32, Cozart doesn’t fit that description. Now, signing a 32 yr old for 3 years is not unheard of around these parts. Steve Pearce, anyone? But, the reality is that age doesn’t matter as much as how Cozart would fit into the positional mix. MLBTR suggests that he could try and take on a utility role with his new club, to increase his value, but the player feels that he is a short stop and should market himself that way. His major league resume would agree, since he has a grand total of zero games at any position other than short stop.
Do the Impossible!
To make room for Cozart, there is a section of the Blue Jays fan base that would jump at the chance to rid themselves of Tulo, believe it or not. They would say that Ross Atkins should look to trade Tulo in some kind of deal (Miami would be their preference, apparently) to improve the roster in other spots (right field would be their preference, apparently).
This is obviously flawed. Firstly, Tulo has full no trade rights thanks to being traded to Toronto. The 2015 splurge by Alex Anthopoulos also saddled the Blue Jays with Tulo for as long as the veteran would like. Secondly, the very reason that these people want Tulo traded is exactly why he is not going anywhere. They feel he’s overpaid, but there is not a team in baseball who would be willing to take on Tulo’s money, especially if the
false belief is that he is in heavy decline. So, the Blue Jays would have to eat significant funds to move Tulo. Would they do that AND take on ~$11M a season to sign Cozart. That seems like bad business.
So to does outright releasing him. Does it make sense to pay that kind of money to a guy who sitting at home on his couch? If so, I would like you to talk to my agent. Immediately.
More For Less?
If the belief that Cozart can be turned into some kind of super utility player, capable of playing short, second, third and maybe even the outfield, that would be a tough transition. Would Toronto be willing to experiment with this idea? Let’s say that Tulo stays and the plan is to transition Cozart to other spots. Second makes sense. So does the outfield. His bat would certainly make you want to think about trying it. But…why would they?
The Blue Jays can fill in roster spots for far less. Ryan Goins is a candidate for arbitration should the club wish to keep him. Given that he can fill the infield defensive needs of a back up (which is kind of what Cozart might be brought in to be), it would be well worth paying Goins whatever the raise is on his league minimum salary and look for offensive upgrades elsewhere. Considering outfield options currently in the fold, does it even make sense for the Blue Jays to think about forcing Cozart into that role? Likely not. For the versatility that the idea of Cozart as utility player would bring, a team can figure out cheaper options. The only reason Cozart would be that utility guy is if Tulo and Travis are healthy and dependable. If they are, there is no need for anything so expensive.
The Biggest Red Flag
While everything above should make you feel less inclined to bring in Cozart, we really need to think like Toronto’s front office. Cozart is becoming a free agent at the best time for him, but not for whichever team signs him. They will be paying for his 2017 season. They’ll try to keep the price down by pointing out that his previous five seasons saw him break 100 wRC+ just once (2015). But, someone will pay for him.
Does it seem likely that the Blue Jays front office would overpay for talent that really can’t be seen as a sure thing? Are they likely to fork over $33M for a player who has one year upon which he’ll hang his hat? Granted, he has put up 14.9 fWAR over his 7 seasons, so he is no slouch. But, let’s be real: Cozart’s 2017 season will drive his price significantly.
It will likely drive his price higher than Toronto is comfortable with. And, that’s even if they can convince him to take a job as a guy who will have no set position. Tough sell.
Toronto’s 2018 roster doesn’t necessitate a full time short stop. They have one and he is not going anywhere. If the club feels that they need someone who can fill in for Tulo and/or Travis, they will not be looking to spend $11M per season unless those two question marks become a definite long term miss. It is unlikely that the Blue Jays are there yet. They are more likely thinking that the two will contribute this coming season and therefore are more likely to look for solid (read cheaper) depth, rather than a starter.
If you feel this signing would be about adding insurance for beyond next season, you probably should remember that the Blue Jays are suddenly looking to be in good shape below the big league roster. Think Richard Urena, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Bo Bichette and others. That’s not to say they have an immediate big leaguer waiting in the wings. But, it does mean that they are not about to go spending on Cozart.
It is not difficult to see why folks would offer up Zack Cozart’s name as a possible solution for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is coming off a big year and hitting free agency at a time when the Blue Jays are looking to add to their lineup and shore up their middle infield. But, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to make Cozart your offseason dream. Sure, it could happen, but it is not likely.
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