Zack Cozart is getting his donkey, but the big question is whether he will soon need a pack mule.
One day during spring training, Cozart, the Cincinnati Reds’ shortstop, took his son to visit a donkey farm near the team’s camp in Goodyear, Ariz.
First baseman Joey Votto found out about the visit and decided to give Cozart some incentive for the upcoming season. Votto, a five-time All-Star, promised to buy Cozart a donkey if the seven-year veteran was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
Sure enough, fans voted Cozart into the National League starting lineup as he hit .316 with nine home runs and a .941 OPS in 66 games during the first half. Votto held to his promise by purchasing a donkey, which is 5 months old and currently in training at a farm across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Kentucky.
Cozart admitted last week during the All-Star festivities in Miami that he has a bit of trepidation about being a first-time donkey owner.
“I have a lot of questions I’m going to need answered about it,” he said with a smile. “I know absolutely nothing about how to care for a donkey.”
However, those are the only questions surrounding Cozart. With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline two weeks away, it is safe to wonder if he will be traded.
Cozart is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, though both he and the Reds have expressed an interest in working out a contract extension. Cozart was the Reds’ second-round draft pick in 2007 from the University of Mississippi, and reached the major leagues four years later.
“I really would like to stay with the Reds,” Cozart said. “It’s the only organization I’ve ever been a part of, and I like playing in Cincinnati. I look at a guy like Joey who has played his whole career with the Reds, and it would be great if I could, too.”
The Reds reportedly had a trade in place to send Cozart to the Seattle Mariners at last year’s deadline, but it fell through.
It would seemingly make sense for the Reds to deal Cozart for some young players to help with their rebuilding effort. The Reds are on their way to a fourth straight losing season with a 39-52 record that puts them in last place in the National League Central, 11½ games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
Furthermore, Cozart is 31 and having a career year after entering the season with a lifetime line of .246/.289/.385. The Reds would be selling high, and his above-average defense figures to also be attractive a contending team.
The Reds tried to trade Cozart last year so they could develop a young middle infield combination of Jose Peraza at shortstop and Dilson Herrera at second base.
However, the 23-year-olds have both struggled this season. Peraza is hitting .253/.276/.331 with four home runs and 15 stolen bases in 86 games while playing primarily second base for the Reds. Herrera is batting .258/.307/.390 with seven homers in 66 games for Triple-A Louisville.
The lack of the duo’s progress makes the Reds somewhat leery about trading Cozart.
Our pitching staff has a lot of young guys and needs all the help it can get,” said a member of the Reds organization, mindful that Cincinnati’s 5.21 ERA is worst in the major leagues. “I know, ordinarily, it would make sense to trade him, but he’s a real stabilizer for us both on the field and in the clubhouse. He’s more valuable to us than it might seem to those outside the organization.”
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