Giants: Grading the Zack Cozart, Will Wilson trade
By Jeff Young
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants acquired Zack Cozart and Will Wilson from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Garrett Williams.
The San Francisco Giants swung a trade with the Angels at the winter meetings, absorbing the $12.66 million still owed to Zack Cozart Cozart in 2020 while in the process acquiring an intriguing infield prospect in Will Wilson.
After two injury-marred seasons, Cozart was very much in need of a change in scenery.
The 34-year-old signed a three-year, $38 million contract in 2017, and he has failed to live up to expectations that came with that significant pay day.
In taking on his under-performing contract, the Giants acquired Will Wilson, who is a prospect team president Farhan Zaidi has eyed since before the 2019 MLB draft. The Giants ended up passing on him at No. 10, selecting outfielder Hunter Bishop instead, and he was picked at No. 15 overall by the Angels.
In exchange for those two players, the Giants sent back left-handed pitching prospect Garrett Williams.
Williams, 25, has a devastating breaking ball, but very little control of his arsenal, which also includes an average fastball and changeup.
Zaidi inherited a Giants roster that has flirted with the Collective Bargaining Tax for the past several seasons. Many of the long-term contracts are attached to under-performing players with trade clauses that make player movement difficult.
Regardless, Zaidi has worked to create more financial flexibility through trades and value-driven free-agent signings. That has given him a cushion that not every team has, and he has decided to use it to his advantage.
The trade was a good match in that the Angels had a contract they wanted to remove from their books, and that the Giants had the flexibility to absorb it.
The Angels anticipated landing a big free agent this offseason. Originally, they targeted prized starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, but pivoted to third baseman Anthony Rendon on a seven-year, $245 million contract after Cole signed with the New York Yankees. Not a bad consolation prize.
The Rendon signing may not have taken place if the the Giants did not provide a huge favor to the Angels in taking on the remainder of Cozart’s contract.
However, it came at a cost for the Angels.
The Angels had to attach Wilson, a middle infielder who was one of the top collegiate position players in the 2019 draft. The Giants liked Wilson prior to the draft and considered taking him with the No. 10 overall pick.
According to MLB.com, Wilson was the fourth-highest rated prospect in the Angels farm system at the time of the trade. Now he’s the No. 10 prospect in the Giants system.
Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs provided this scouting report on Wilson:
"“He’s a relatively projectionless, medium-framed infielder without a clear plus tool, and he lacked the strikeout-to-walk ratios first round collegiate players usually exhibit. But, his hands work great in the box, his swing is as compact as his frame (making it possible for him to get on top of high fastballs), he tracks breaking balls very well, and he was very young for a college player, still just 20 on draft day. Some scouts on the amateur side wanted him to catch in pro ball and thought he had the toughness to do it. Others think he’ll be a fine second or third base defender with a balanced, stable offensive profile.”"
At just 20 years of age, it is likely Wilson has a long climb ahead of him through the minor league ranks. As a result, the benefits of this trade will not be realized for a couple of years.
In his lone professional season to date, Wilson recorded a .275/.328/.439 line with five home runs across 204 plate appearances while playing for the Angels Rookie League affiliate. In the field, the 20-year-old spent time at both shortstop and second base.
Wilson was not the only prospect moved in the deal.
Starting pitching prospect Garrett Williams switched teams as well. Williams is a southpaw with an effective curveball, but he has struggled with command to the tune of a 4.9 BB/9 ratio throughout his career.
Despite being a seventh-round pick in 2016, several prospects selected in ensuing drafts have surpassed him in both on-field performance and intrigue. To that point, FanGraphs did not have the 25-year-old ranked in the Giants top-35 prospects list.
Despite Wilson and Williams changing organizations, Cozart remains the most recognizable name. The Angels were happy to unload Cozart’s contract due in part to his lack of overall production since signing the three-year pact in 2017.
The 34-year-old has posted an unsightly .190/.261/.296 line in 360 plate appearances in two seasons with the Angels.
Cozart has appeared in only 96 games over these last two seasons due to injuries. The long-time Cincinnati Reds shortstop sustained a labrum injury in 2018, and has had complications ever since. A follow-up surgery was performed in July to alleviate the pain.
With an injury like this, there are no assurances Cozart will return to his 2017 form when he was selected to the NL All-Star team. New manager Gabe Kapler and Zaidi have spoken with Cozart, and are encouraged by his progress, but remain uncommitted as to whether the middle infielder will remain with the organization.
If the Giants keep Cozart, he will be an odd fit on the roster. As a right-handed bat with experience at shortstop, second base, and third base, Cozart would have to fight with Donovan Solano for playing time. Similar to Cozart, Solano bats from the right side and plays the same positions, and keeping both seems redundant.
The Giants deserve a lot of praise for this move. They have built up payroll flexibility, and used it to bolster their farm system. The only negative from this deal is that they acquired a contract that really does not have a fit on the 2020 roster.
However, that is a minor criticism in a creative trade that has been viewed favorably around the league.
Overall Trade Grade: A-
All things considered, this could prove to be an opportunistic move down the road. Will Wilson comes with a first-round pedigree and plenty of upside. If he turns into a productive player, then it will be well worth the cost of taking on the remainder of Zack Cozart’s contract.