Shortstops show the money

Dragons’ Justin Turner and Zack Cozart win big

By Marc Katz

Summertime at the ballpark—and the $64 million question:

When you saw Justin Turner play for the Dayton Dragons in 2007, did you think he’d someday sign a $64 million contract?

I thought he was good enough to make the major leagues, but, you know, $64 million? Oh, it’s spread over four years. Not so much, is it?

Turner was the latest of 10 former Dragons to make a major league All-Star team when he was part of the most recent game. Another first-time All-Star was Reds’ shortstop Zack Cozart, who became the first former Dragon to get an All-Star base hit. I never would have guessed that, especially with such luminaries as Joey Votto, Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce, and Edwin Encarnacion playing in this and previous games.

Cozart went 1-for-2, and I’ve got to admit I didn’t think he would emerge as the guy who would be the Reds’ starting shortstop, make the All-Star game, and bang out a hit.

Even though Cozart was always a flashy fielder, it appeared something was wrong with his throwing arm when he was here (he denied that at the time, then had surgery when one of his seasons finished), and I didn’t think he was that much of a hitter.

Paul Janish was my guy, but Cozart came along in 2007 and then Dragons’ manager Donnie Scott said he liked Cozart best among all the shortstops the Reds had.

Janish made the majors and remains in the Orioles system, but a weak bat did him in, and Cozart improved enough not only to make the All-Star roster, but to be voted into a starting position.

Votto made his fifth All-Star game and Turner, a second baseman who also played some shortstop here, was chosen off the Dodgers’ roster. He’s now mostly a third baseman.

(Other Dragons who made the team in the past were third baseman Todd Frazier, who memorably won the Home Run Derby in 2015, catcher Devin Mesoraco, and pitchers Johnny Cueto and Travis Wood.)

Turner was also on the 2007 Dragons’ team and was promoted to advanced Class A Sarasota with a week to go in the season when the Sarasota second baseman was injured.

That had an adverse effect on the team, but it worked out for Turner.

He’s a poster child for staying with it, although it doesn’t work out for everybody.

Undrafted out of high school, Turner attended Cal State Fullerton near his home and was drafted in the 29th round by the Yankees in 2005 following his junior season.

That wasn’t going to yield impossible-to-turn-down bonus money, so Turner played another year of college ball, earning a $50,000 bonus for signing, following his seventh-round pick by the Reds in 2006.

He never made it to the Reds, but oh, did he make it.

He was traded to the Orioles along with Ryan Freel and Brandon Waring for catcher Ramon Hernandez. He made it to the Orioles for 12 games in 2009, hitting .167.

Then he was picked up on waivers by the Mets, who used him as a part-time player, despite averages of .260 in 2011 and .269 in 2012 and .280 in 2013.

In 2014, he was picked up on waivers from the Mets by the Dodgers. You can look up his averages yourself. I will tell you he was hitting .377 at the All-Star break.

What I really want to tell you is his salary. Well, his salaries.

Turner’s first million-dollar contract came in 2014 with the Dodgers.

He did so well, he signed for $2.5 million in 2015, then $5.1 million in 2016.

Entering 2017, he was “inked,” as we “scribes” put it, to a four-year, $64 million contract.

I mean, I considered him a major league prospect back in 2007. I thought he might even become an everyday player. I had no idea he would grow a Smokey the Bear red beard to go with his shoulder-length red hair, but he did, and he looks great.

I also didn’t know Turner would make more money playing third base than Pete Rose.

Cozart? He might be traded, the wags say, because he could become a free agent after this season. Since he’s experiencing a career year, his $5.325 million contract will be a rather large starting point.

Of course, if Cozart continues to improve like Turner, he’ll be worth it…to somebody.

Turner and Cozart, by the way, are part of my trivia question from two years ago when the Dodgers played the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Five players in that game played at least some shortstop for the Dragons at one time, including Turner (who was mostly a second baseman here) and Cozart.

Also in that game were Reds’ third baseman Todd Frazier and center fielder Billy Hamilton. Late in the game, the Dodgers used Miguel Rojas as a pinch hitter.

All those players—except for Turner—were regular shortstops for the Dragons.

They all made it, and made it big.

Cozart and Turner made it biggest of all.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at

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