Deadline looming, Cozart peaking at right time

All-Star shortstop homers vs. Indians, is free agent after the season

Deadline looming, Cozart peaking at right time

CLEVELAND -- With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looming a week from now, questions remain about how much longer impending free agent Zack Cozart will remain with the Reds.

But with a home run in Monday's 6-2 loss to the Indians -- his third homer and seventh extra-base hit in his last six games -- Cozart's value is reaching a crescendo.

Long known for his defensive acumen, Cozart has transformed into one of the best offensive shortstops in the league this season. His .404 on-base percentage and .570 slugging percentages lead all qualified shortstops.

"[He's become a] great combination now of an offensive player with the defensive player we've always known," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's not just the power, it's the batting average and on-base [percentage] to go with really impeccable defense. He's been sensational, certainly all year and a big part of our ballclub and offense."

But with the Reds 11 games out of the National League Central and 15 1/2 games back of an NL Wild Card spot, they may opt to move the 31-year-old to give youngsters like Jose Peraza more regular playing time at shortstop.

The Marlins opened the shortstop market in late June when they traded Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays, but no other Major League shortstops have moved, with many contenders already set at the position.

"It's always going to be there when you're where I'm at in my career, coming down to the Deadline and being a free agent after the year, you know your name is going to be thrown around," Cozart said.

"It's crazy how many great young shortstops there are because there are no contenders that need shortstops, which is surprising. You just have to play with it and deal with it. There's nothing you can do about it, and you just have to keep playing."

Cozart continues to perform well in spite of all the noise. Indians starter Josh Tomlin fooled him on a pair of curveballs in a fourth-inning strikeout, but two innings later, Cozart got his revenge by depositing a hanging curve over the left-field fence. That brings him to 10-for-22 with five walks and two strikeouts in his last six games.

Cozart was nearly traded to the Mariners at last season's Trade Deadline, so he's used to hearing his name in rumors. He should have more clarity after the Deadline passes in a week, but until then, he's keeping his head down and playing the best baseball of his life.

"It's never going to be out of sight, out of mind," Cozart said. "But once I get around the clubhouse, I'm around the guys, I don't really think about anything like that. I just come over here and work and try to get better and help the Reds win."

Ben Weinrib is a reporter for based in Cleveland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.