LA Angels Zack Cozart: A Cautionary Tale
By David Peng
Less than two years into his time with the LA Angels, Zack Cozart‘s career may be over.
When Zack Cozart signed a three-year, $38 million contract with the LA Angels in mid-December of 2017, he and the team basked in the glow of good feeling and boundless optimism. Cozart was an excellent defensive shortstop who was coming off an All-Star season with the Cincinnati Reds. He was also team-minded enough to move to third base, and there were visions of him teaming up with Andrelton Simmons and Ian Kinsler to form one of the great defensive infields in recent history.
We know the rest. The big bat he flashed in Cincinnati was a career year, not a career change. A minor long-time loose shoulder problem became a huge issue when he tore his labrum last June. After surgery and rehab, the loose shoulder had become too tight, and now he can’t move his shoulder without pain. A second procedure earlier this season has not helped, and now Cozart has been shut down for the year in preparation for another surgery, an “arthroscopic debridement of his left shoulder.”
Cozart was given plenty of opportunities to play, and he simply couldn’t; he will finish the season with a .124/.178/.144 slash line, which would be hilariously bad if the situation wasn’t so sad. Meanwhile, the world kept spinning. David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo were promoted and Tommy La Stella was acquired to fill the void Cozart left — and they have. The Angels were 23-28 after Cozart’s last start, and are 24-18 since.
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Cozart’s story is a sad one, but it’s not a new one. Free agents coming off a career year rarely reach those heights again. Weak-hitting infielders who suddenly learn to hit can just as quickly forget. Players effective despite long-term injuries might not be so effective as they move past the age of 30. All those things were true of Cozart.
On the other side of the contract, though, stands the Angels, and they are also at fault here. Cozart’s career before the career year was not a secret, nor was the fact that he had a shoulder issue. His age certainly wasn’t a secret.
Yet the Angels, so desperate to make a push toward the playoffs before Mike Trout hit free agency, kept throwing massive contract after massive contract at free agents, or traded for expensive over-30 veterans. Apparently, the weak returns on contracts to Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Huston Street haven’t deterred owner Arte Moreno from chasing big names — and that’s without mentioning the $59 million still due Albert Pujols after this season.
The Cozart contract may have been the last straw, however. This past winter, Angels GM Billy Eppler acquired a grip of free agents, all of them on just one-year contracts. (So far, none of them have worked out.) The promotions to Fletcher, Rengifo, Griffin Canning, and Ty Buttrey, along with refusal to go big on free agents like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, appears to be a signal that the Angels will no longer be so reckless in their pursuit of pennants.
As the Angels try to build for the long haul, they’ll be doing it without Zack Cozart. The surgery from last winter has not helped him, nor has the rehab treatments this spring. As the Angels take one last run at a Wild Card slot, and then try to load up for 2020, they’ll be doing it without their last big money multi-year free agent signing. Zack Cozart sadly is done.