GOODYEAR, Arizona -- Reds manager Bryan Price won’t get the final vote, but he made it clear he wants Zack Cozart to be part of the 2017 Reds. Cozart is in the last year of his contract, so his name is often mentioned as a trade possibility.
“He’s really a necessary piece,” Price said. “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. For him, if he’s swinging the bat well or he’s scuffling a bit offensively, defensively he always shows up. Leadership, professionalism, that’s what we need, and it’s a great role model for some of these younger kids that are in camp.”
Cozart reported to camp Thursday and reiterated he wants to be a Red -- for this year and beyond.
“When you get to this point in your career, you really don’t know what to expect with trades and stuff,” Cozart said. “I’m a year away from free agency and the direction the team wanted to go, myself, Brandon (Phillips) and Jay (Bruce), we knew that's the way it’s going to be.
“I didn’t know what to expect this offseason, whether I was going to get traded or not. 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.”
This is Cozart, 31, in his seventh year as a Red. He is fourth on the team in service. “That’s insane,” he said.
Cozart will have a new double-play partner for the first time in his career. Phillips, of course, was traded just before camp opened.
“Honestly, I was surprised,” Cozart said. “When you get close to spring training, you don’t hear much about big trades. Like I said, we knew we’d be involved in trade rumors, maybe get traded. Once you get close to spring, you think you’re going to show up and start the season.
“So I was surprised. It’s a little weird not having (Phillips) right here, for sure. And it’s going to be weird not having him out there at second base. That’s all I’ve really known.”
Cozart appreciated what Phillips did for him.
“He was good for me when I first came up because he never judged me,” Cozart said. “We just went out and worked. We tried to get that chemistry going. It worked pretty well out there on the field. I’m happy for him that he’s back home in Atlanta.”
Cozart knows that his days with the Reds could be numbered. He saw what Bruce went through last year before being traded at the deadline on July 31.
“I learned how hard it is,” he said. “There’s just so many rumors. No matter how much you want to stay away from it, you’re still going to hear from my dad or whoever. It’s weird. You have family to think about. You obviously don’t know where you’re going or if you’re going.”
Cozart reported to camp much healthier than he was last year. Last year, he was coming back from major knee surgery.
“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. I had issues with my knee every day.”
Again, Price thinks a mix of veterans with those young players is key.
“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.. Leadership, professionalism, that’s what we need, and it’s a great role model for some of these younger kids that are in camp.
“It's a lot harder to do with a team that's almost comprised of players with three years of experience or less,” Price said. “In particular, in the middle infield, there's so much to know, so much responsibility, especially at shortstop.”