Cozart optimistic despite playing in limbo

Cozart optimistic despite playing in limbo

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart knows from the first day of camp in 2017, he is in the same unsettled situation former right fielder Jay Bruce was in during 2016. Cozart, who can be a free agent after this season, could be traded at any time by his rebuilding club.

"I didn't know what to expect this offseason, whether I was going to get traded or not," Cozart said on Thursday as Reds position players reported to Spring Training. "It just so happens that the shortstop market is not that great right now. I'm glad to be back with the Reds. I want to win with the Reds. I've won here before. I've been on teams that won. It's fun. I want these young guys to feel that."

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Playing in limbo isn't easy, as Cozart observed, and there was a trade in place for Bruce to go to the Blue Jays when camp opened a year ago before it fell through. There was also a rumor later that Bruce might go to Baltimore.

The drama finally ended Aug. 1 when Bruce was dealt to the Mets for two players, including infielder Dilson Herrera.

"I wouldn't be shocked if stuff like that came up with me during Spring Training," said Cozart, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.325 million contract Jan. 13. "I try to block it out as much as possible. I just want to get out there and play."

Cozart's RBI single

Reds manager Bryan Price praised Cozart's professionalism throughout the ordeal of uncertainty. He's also counting on him greatly for as long as he's on the team.

"He's awesome, because he's a team player," Price said. "He's all about winning; he's tough. He plays the game the right way. He's a student of the game. He's really a necessary piece. We're really trying to make some significant leaps this year, and I think it's hard to do that without a semblance of experience, leadership and performers."

Cozart, 31, rebounded nicely last season from a catastrophic right knee injury that required reconstructive surgery in June 2015. In 121 games, he batted .252/.308/.425 with 50 RBIs and a career-high 16 home runs. He did not play a game after Sept. 10, because of tendinitis in the same knee.

This season, Cozart will be playing without the bulky knee brace he had to wear all of last year.

"The knee is 100 percent," he said. "It's the first time since my surgery that I can just say, 'I'm good.' I didn't say it a lot last year, but there wasn't a day that I felt good during the season."

Brandon Phillips was traded to the Braves on Sunday, meaning Cozart's new double-play partner at second base will be Jose Peraza. Cozart looked forward to teaming with Peraza, who has a locker just a couple of stalls away.

Earlier this week, Peraza noted he would eventually like to play his natural position, which happens to be Cozart's. It did not feel awkward for Cozart, however.

"I know he wants to play shortstop, but he'll have to wait a little while for that," Cozart said. "I know what I can bring to the team. Everyone here has seen me play and knows what I can bring. That's all that matters. I hope that I'm still with the Reds on the next winner and that's hopefully this year."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.