MLB free agency is right around the corner and the hot stove is heating up, bringing an array of hopes, or lack thereof, from all 30 team’s fans about who their squad might get to sign the dotted line. In today’s game, fans examine a myriad of rumors on a daily basis and the Pirates are no different, as former general manager and now-MLB.com writer Jim Duquette insinuated a signing of Cincinnati Reds’ free-agent shortstop Zack Cozart. For this rumor, though, don’t take it to the bank. And it’s not because owner Bob Nutting is cheap.
Why wouldn’t the Pirates take a chance on the 32-year-old?
First things first, a robust, capable player already occupies the Pirates’ shortstop position, Jordy Mercer.
Sure, Mercer’s numbers don’t compare to Cozart’s when simply looking at last season’s stats, but it’s not a point of emphasis or an upgrade the Pirates need in order to make a run in 2018. Mercer making all of the plays, though lacking some range, and hitting 14 homers with a .255 batting average fits well in any system.
With continued production like that, Mercer won’t be out of Pittsburgh unless he’s dethroned by highly-touted prospect Kevin Newman or becomes too expensive, but that’s a story for another day.
If you take Cozart’s offensive numbers with a grain of salt, there’s no reason to sign Cozart for Duquette’s suggested price, exceeding three years and $40 million. Mercer, though waiting for his arbitration hearing or an offer, isn’t expected to earn more than Cozart.
Realistically, despite a large difference in expected contracts, Cozart and Mercer produced strikingly similar offensive outputs throughout their MLB careers thus far — Cozart seven MLB seasons, Mercer six MLB seasons.
Aside from the fact Mercer himself warrants passing on Cozart, blocking him is made easy due to the depth the Pirates possess around the infield.
Next year, the Pirates currently have of infielders David Freese, Josh Harrison, Jung-ho Kang (pending reentry U.S.), Mercer, Max Moroff and Sean Rodriguez, excluding rostered first baseman, under their possession. That means there are six lucrative infielders controlled, minus Moroff, for merely three starting positions.
I’m positive Nutting and general manager Neal Huntington have no intentions of paying $10 million or more for Cozart if Freese ($4.25 million) and Rodriguez ($5.75 million) are on the team. Essentially, one, or both, of these veterans would see limited time on the bench if Cozart inked a deal.
And let’s not forget that Kang may be allowed back into the U.S. for next season, basically sweeping Freese’s starting third base spot away from him like a mat when the tires of the plane touch down.
My belief shouldn’t be taken as a knock against Cozart or his playing ability. I’m convinced he’ll fit in nicely with another big league club.
The numbers are there for him: 24 home runs, 141 wRC+, 5.0 WAR and an above-average glove manning shortstop in 2017. In fact, if he played for the Pirates last season, he’d fall head and shoulders ahead of Harrison in WAR, who led the team with a 3.3.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Joey Votto, who finished second-place in MVP voting, bought Cozart a horse for his first All-Star Game selection last season.
Cozart, who amassed a noteworthy 2017 and is worthy of a large contract, is a fit for some team out there, not the Pirates though.
Joe Cinello covers Pirates material for Pittsburgh Sports Castle. Connect with him on Facebook (Joey Cinello), Linkedin (Joseph Cinello) and Twitter (@JCinello).