Atlanta trades LHP Andrew McKirahan and RHP Carlos Portuondo to Cincinnati for 2B Brandon Phillips and $13M
With January’s sad news of Sean Rodriguez‘ family car accident, the Braves realized Rodriguez might not be ready for the 2017 season. It seems worse than that, and Rodriguez reportedly will be out 3-5 months with shoulder surgery. That leaves a vacuum at 2B for the Braves, who seem to prefer Jace Peterson stick to the super-utility role he’s best suited for. Enter Brandon Phillips.
The Reds seemed more than happy enough to rid themselves of Phillips, who at times can be an organizational headache, so willing they paid Atlanta $13,000,000 to acquire the 2nd baseman. He’s only owed $14,000,000 for the 2017 season, so Atlanta’s investment here is nothing more than $1,000,000, a mediocre lefty (McKirahan), and a 29 year old righty with a grand total of 10 upper minors innings under his belt (Portuondo). There’s not much to analyze here – the Braves are getting Phillips at a remarkable discount, and there’s little chance they regret this deal in a vacuum as long as Phillips doesn’t find himself in any media battles.
The better question – just how good can Phillips be for the Braves? He’ll turn 36 this season, so it’s important to accept that he’s in the decline phase of his career. From 2007-2013, Phillips was mostly a solid MLB starter, and he was better than that more often than he was worse. Since 2013 (his age-32 season), it’s been up and down. 2014 was awful. 2015 was a nice bounceback to old levels. 2016 was simply below average. It’s trending downward, but not so steeply that he’s guaranteed to be worse. Players don’t age in a linear fashion, and there’s a decent chance Phillips has another 2015-like bounceback. Could he bat .280/.320/.415? Certainly. And there’s something to be said about a change of scenery, especially when that scenery is a homecoming of sorts. Phillips attended Redan HS here in Georgia, so it’s possible that, like Matt Kemp, this is something that will excite him.
The most likely outcome, of course, is the more pessimistic one. He’s unlikely to be the Brandon Phillips of old. He’s more likely to simply be old Brandon Phillips, which can still be useful. I don’t think Phillips, who enjoyed both power and speed in his earlier days, will age particularly quickly. He should remain useful, if diminished a bit, into his late 30’s. Jimmy Rollins was still useful at 36, and, for now, he’s employed at 38. While it’s unlikely he’ll be an All-Star, it’s equally unlikely that Phillips will be unrosterable.
He’s most likely to be a mix of good and bad. He’ll hit some home runs, maybe even into the double digits. He’ll steal some bases, maybe even into the double digits. His days as a defensive star seem assuredly behind him, but I can’t imagine he’ll be much worse than mediocre.
Brandon Phillips isn’t an acquisition to get excited about if you have designs on winning a pennant in 2017. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking to be a little better, add some name recognition to a lineup batting in a new ballpark, and keep Jace Peterson available to be a defensive sub anywhere and everywhere, Phillips is a perfectly fine addition. He’s a second-division starter at this point, but Atlanta is a second-division team. It’s fine. His presence allows the team to be patient with Second Baseman of the Future™ Ozzie Albies, who hit only .248/.307/.351 in his brief introduction to AAA. Don’t be concerned over Albies – he was only 19 during those AAA at-bats. But a stopgap would help, and Phillips, under contract for just one more season, is exactly that.
I never would have expected Phillips to be a good fit for the 2017 Braves, but at the drastically reduced cost, it makes a lot of sense. It’s not a trade we’re likely to look back on as a steal, but it’s even less likely to be one the Braves regret. That seems to be a common thread in the trades of John Coppolella. If this is the new definition of “The Braves Way”, and it sure seems to be, we’ll all be better off.