Zack Cozart had been mentally preparing himself for the possibility of playing second base for the Angels when he received a call from general manager Billy Eppler on Wednesday. Eppler explained that he had an opportunity to acquire second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Tigers, so he wanted to gauge Cozart's willingness to shift to third, a position the longtime shortstop had never played professionally.
"When I found that out, I was a little shocked because everything was happening so quick," Cozart said. "But at the end of the day, I want to win."
On Friday, Cozart agreed to a three-year, $38 million deal with the Angels, who continued their busy offseason by adding an All-Star infielder to beef up their lineup and deepen an already impressive defensive unit.
• Angels' stacked lineup a credit to Eppler's skill
Cozart, 32, is coming off a career season, batting .297 with a .933 OPS, 24 home runs and 63 RBIs in 122 games for the Reds in 2017. Cozart, a career .254 hitter, attributed the success to some tweaks to his batting stance. Instead of starting with his hands high, Cozart began resting his bat on his shoulder during his set-up, which he called a "game-changer."
"It freed me up mentally," Cozart said. "I didn't have tension, I didn't have to think about anything than seeing the ball and hitting or taking a good pitch."
Though Cozart exclusively played shortstop during his seven seasons in Cincinnati, he found that few teams had openings at the position when he hit free agency. One of the only teams that did, the Padres, filled their shortstop void by acquiring Freddy Galvis from the Phillies on Friday. Less than an hour later, the Angels announced they had signed Cozart to play third base.
• Get to know Cozart's bat, glove and donkey
Eppler said Cozart's openness to playing two positions affirmed his confidence that the Angels were targeting the right player.
"That right there made me feel extremely good," Eppler said. "Not only that we'd get the right player from an ability standpoint, but we got the right player from the character standpoint."
Cozart said he plans to seek advice from Eric Chavez, a special assistant with the Angels, and former big league third baseman Scott Rolen as he prepares for his move to third. He will also be available to back up both middle-infield spots, which is key since the Angels are seriously considering moving to a six-man rotation as part of their plan to accommodate Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
"If we do go with a six-man and carry 13 pitchers, versatility and flexibility will be everything for this roster," Eppler said. "That played a part in the construction of the roster."
Cozart will join an infield that already includes shortstop Andrelton Simmons, catcher Martin Maldonado and Kinsler, all of whom have won Gold Glove Awards. The Angels' outfield also features Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton, who were Gold Glove finalists this year, and Michael Trout.
"We know from a run-prevention standpoint, we have a chance to have a pretty special infield," Eppler said.
The addition of Cozart, a right-handed hitter, leaves the Angels with a heavily right-handed lineup, as Calhoun, Ohtani and Luis Valbuena are the only lefty bats among the club's regulars.
The move also creates a crunch at first base, where the Angels have Valbuena, C.J. Cron and Jose Pujols on their depth chart. Valbuena and Pujols are currently projected to garner the majority of the starts there, which could make Cron expendable.
"We don't have to fill that out right now," Eppler said. "We'll let the rest of the winter play out before we start figuring exactly how that stuff is going to fall."
After playing alongside Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Cozart said he is looking forward to joining forces with another baseball superstar in Trout. Cozart's friendship with Votto will continue to be memorialized in the form of a special gift, however. Last Spring Training, Votto told Cozart he would buy him a donkey if he made the All-Star team, a promise Votto fulfilled in July after Cozart earned a trip to his first Midsummer Classic.
"The donkey is actually still in Cincinnati at the place originally," Cozart said. "I guess it was too young for me to take home. I was waiting to see what happened this offseason. Now I got to get some land. The donkey will be staying around Cincy, and now that I can start looking for some land, I'll officially be a donkey owner."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Coming off a breakout season that included 24 homers and an impressive .297/.385/.548 slash line over 507 plate appearances, Cozart would have been a shallow-league option regardless of his free-agent destination. But by landing with a revamped Angels club, the veteran could be in position to record 80 RBIs and 100 runs scored if he secures a premium lineup spot amongst Trout, Upton and Kinsler. Meanwhile, the recent additions of Kinsler, Cozart and Ohtani further solidify Trout as a lock to go first overall in all formats and Upton as a desirable early-round selection.