LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This winter, the Padres' solution at shortstop might be more than a one-year stopgap.Free-agent Zack Cozart, who spent the past seven seasons with Cincinnati, has been linked to the Padres, through reports in the Boston Globe and Cincinnati Enquirer. The fit seems obvious.For the past
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This winter, the Padres' solution at shortstop might be more than a one-year stopgap.
Free-agent Zack Cozart, who spent the past seven seasons with Cincinnati, has been linked to the Padres, through reports in the Boston Globe and Cincinnati Enquirer. The fit seems obvious.
For the past decade, the Padres have been looking to fill a long-term hole at shortstop. Cozart is the best player available on a shortstop market that is thin on both talent and potential suitors. He's also the only player in the group likely to command a multiyear deal.
In each of the past three offseasons, the Padres have underwhelmed in their pursuit of a shortstop. Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar each served as little more than one-year replacement-level options.
This year's search, however, has already taken on a bit of a different feel. Most of that is due to the emergence of prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. At 18, Tatis put forth one of the most impressive seasons in Minor League baseball. He skyrocketed up prospect rankings, while setting the franchise home-run record at Class A Fort Wayne.
Tatis is rated the 52nd best overall prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com.
Tatis could make an impact at the big league level as soon as 2019, and general manager A.J. Preller added that the club is high on prospects Luis Urias and Javier Guerra as well. (Urias projects as a second baseman, but Preller left the door open for a move back to short.) In any case, the Padres' will pursue a shortstop this offseason with those youngsters in mind.
"It really comes down to the individual player and the situation, and we'll figure out what's the best thing for us going forward," Preller said. "We've looked at it as: Be open about it. Just because we have some shortstop depth doesn't mean we're not listening to trade possibility or multiple year possibility in free agency."
How does Cozart fit into all of this? Well, he's coming off a career year in Cincinnati, in which he batted .297/.385/.548 and earned his first All-Star berth. He'd be an obvious upgrade over the Padres' recent shortstops -- both offensively and defensively. (The latter is especially important, given the Padres' 2017 rotation was the most ground-ball happy in baseball.)
But the 32-year-old Cozart would undoubtedly command multiple years on his contract -- perhaps as many as three. In that regard, Cozart's presence in 2019-20 could allow the Padres to bring Tatis along more slowly. Should Tatis force his way to the big leagues earlier than expected, Cozart could conceivably switch positions.
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"The question we keep wrestling with, as a group, is how many resources we want to put into a stop-gap filler guy," Preller said. "If there's a guy we think has value for us [long-term], that definitely makes sense. But I think we have some internal options that we're excited about.
"Down the road, we're very excited about the shortstop depth we have in the system. It's taken a few years to build that up. Hopefully this is one of the last years we're talking about [finding a shortstop]."
A quick progression for Tatis could solve that problem. So would a multiyear deal for Cozart.
Both possibilities remain in play.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.