Ways to Improve the Cincinnati Reds: Shortstop

By Grant E. Doepel
zack cozart cincinnati reds
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One month into the season, the Cincinnati Reds sit seven and a half games back of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers with a record of 12-14. While the July 31 trade deadline is still 13 weeks away, it isn’t too early to take a look at directions in which the Reds can look to improve their club.

Improve Shortstop

The most notable weak sport at the moment for the Reds comes from the shortstop position and Zack Cozart. While he continues to play strong defense, Cozart’s offensive struggles have been monumental. Cozart is featuring a .165 batting average, .202 on base percentage, .271 slugging percentage and a 4.73 on base + slugging percentage. Add to that nine runs batted in with just one home run and it is obvious that the Reds could use a boost from their shortstop.

How to improve: The shortstop depth in the Reds’ minor league system is non-existent, so general manager Walt Jocketty will be forced to look outside for improvements. Over the offseason, there were rumors about Didi Gregorious returning to the Reds in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Gregorious would not be much of an offensive upgrade over Cozart.

Another option would be Stephen Drew who is currently unemployed (because signing him would cost teams their first round draft pick). Drew would not only cost the Reds’ a draft pick, but additionally would be much more expensive (Cozart 2014 salary – $600,000; Drew 2013 salary – $9.5 million). Last season Drew hit .253 (Cozart – .254), had a .333 OBP (.284), 13 home runs (12) and 67 RBI (63). That would cost the Reds’ nearly $9 million more for essentially the same type of production.

The problem with the shortstop market is that strong performers are hard to acquire, because they are few and far between. Texas isn’t going to trade Elvis Andrus (and the Reds aren’t going to pay his $15 million salary through 2022), Atlanta isn’t considering a trade involving Andrelton Simmons and the Brewers aren’t departing ways with Jean Segura.

One possible target who could fit nicely at the top of the lineup with Billy Hamilton would be Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres. The last two season have seen Cabrera come into his own and shine for the struggling Padres organization. Last season, Cabrera hit .283, had a .355 OBP and .381 SLG. While he only had four home runs and 31 RBI, he did have 37 stolen bases (and 44 the year before). So far in 2014, his numbers are relatively similar: .295 AVG, .319 OBP and .384 SLG. He has four stolen bases in seven attempts, but his strikeout rate has increased over 2013.

However, Cabrera’s ability to get on base could be exactly what this Reds’ team is looking for. Whether it be at the top of the lineup with Hamilton and Joey Votto, or at the bottom of the lineup with Todd Frazier and a healthy Devin Mesoraco. His fielding percentage is also comparable to that of Cozart (2013 Cabrera .987, Cozart .977).

Additionally, Cabrera is controllable through 2016. He is making $2.45 million this year and is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons. While he may not produce runs at the pace of Cozart, Cabrera could be a great addition to the type of baseball Bryan Price seems to enjoy playing — get them on, get them over and get them in. This type of trade would be another step in a new direction for the Reds and away from the power-hitting days of the past (Griffey, Dunn, Willy Mo Pena). Fans have seen a new team when Hamilton is getting on base, and Cabrera could amplify that type of production.

Walt Jocketty must ask himself, “Is Zack Cozart the long term answer at shortstop for the Reds?”

Grant Doepel is a Cincinnati Reds writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GrantDoepel, like him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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