As anyone reading this knows, Major League Baseball’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, 2017 at 4 p.m. EST. Before that deadline, teams are free to finalize trades with no extra hoops to jump through. For the Atlanta Braves, there have been deals (Jamie Garcia to the Twins) and rumors of deals (in with Sonny Gray and out with Julio Teheran), but nothing beyond speculation has developed from those rumors – so far.
Based on the Braves position and team, they do not HAVE to make a move at the deadline, unless there is one where the return clearly outweighs the cost. However, there is one player who really stands out as someone who SHOULD be traded, and that’s Brandon Phillips.
From the Braves perspective, there is no reason to keep Phillips and his expiring contract when a trade could potentially add some value to the future, even if small, as we saw in the Garcia trade. But trading Phillips isn’t just about what’s best for the Braves; another team has to find value in him. This leads to the obvious questions I haven’t seen answered fully: What teams are a fit? Do any teams even exist that need a Brandon Phillips at second base?
So within this analysis:
- I provide a brief synopsis of each team’s second base situation and determine if the team is a possible match for Brandon Phillips.
- I then rank teams that could be potential trade partners based on which I think matches up best.
- And finally I provide a poll so you can tell me which team you think matches up best.
Before I do that, I want to take a quick look at who Phillips is and why he should be traded, as well as some potential complications for a trade. (Feel free to skip this if you think you got it down.)
Evaluating Brandon Phillips
Brandon Phillips is a 36-year-old 2nd baseman for the Atlanta Braves. That’s stating the obvious, but also points out something important: he is not young and he does not have positional flexibility.
Phillips established himself as the everyday 2nd baseman in 2006, after the Reds acquired him from the Indians. From 2007 through 2012 (age 26-31 seasons), he was one of the better second baseman in baseball. He appeared in two All-Star Games, won a silver slugger, and earned three gold gloves as a legitimately great defensive player. He was a slightly above average hitter with a little pop slashing .280/.330/.449 (104 wRC+). However, due to injuries and aging, his performance dropped slightly, particularly in the power department. From 2013-16 he slashed .278/.316/.396 (92 wRC+). He had one more gold glove and all-star appearance in 2013, but the great second baseman became an average one offensively and defensively. Phillips was traded to the Braves prior to the 2017 season, and despite some ups and downs, remains a roughly average offensive and defensive second baseman, slashing a slightly improved .286/.328/.434 (98 wRC+) but putting up slightly below average defensive metrics (-4 DRS; -0.2 UZR) for second base.
When it comes to trades, money owed is important, and Phillips signed a 6-year/$72.5 million contract prior to the 2012 season. That contract pays Phillips $14 million for the 2017 season, of which he is still owed approximately $5.3 million. However, as a part of the trade, the Reds sent $13 million to Atlanta, so the Braves are only on the hook for $1 million. That means a team acquiring Phillips would only be on the hook for approximately $380,000, which is a big plus.
There are a couple of limitations as well in pulling off a Phillips trade, and one is also related to the contract. In order to complete the trade to Atlanta, Phillips had to waive his 10/5 rights. A player with 10 years of service time and five with the same team earns the right to veto any trade . Phillips was willing to waive this in order to come to the Braves (the second time, anyway). However, the Braves agreed to retain the limited no-trade provision in his contract, which allowed Phillips to specify 12 teams prior to the season for which a trade would require his approval. The Braves also agreed to pay Phillips and additional $500,000 if he is traded. While the additional money is relatively minor, the limited no-trade clause clearly adds a wrinkle, but it’s hard to imagine Phillips wouldn’t approve a trade to a legitimate playoff contender if he had a chance to play regularly. It’s important to note that the 36-year-old not only doesn’t have a World Series ring, but in three post season appearances, his Reds teams lost in the first round all three times. Like everyone on the Nationals, he doesn’t have a playoff series win to his name.
A second limitation is his injuries. Phillips has not suffered any major injuries with the Braves, but he did suffer a groin strain on April 26, and since then he has missed several games due to issues with groin strains and hamstring tightness. This doesn’t seem to have significantly impacted his performance, but a trade partner would be aware that a nagging injury can get worse rather than better.
A team trading for Brandon Phillips knows they are not getting the player he once was, but they are getting a player who offers solid performance on both sides of the ball and oozes veteran presence, and at a really small financial cost as a rental for the remainder of the season. However, they also have to take some injury risk as well.
What Type of Return Will Brandon Phillips Bring?
Atlanta fans tend to overvalue players on their team, especially when they are well-liked and performing adequately, and Phillips certainly fits this bill. Working in favor of the Braves (and Brave’s fans expectations for a return) is his low salary and reasonably solid performance on both sides of the ball. However, if the Jaime Garcia trade has taught us anything, adequate players with only a few months left on their contract do not bring much in return. Due to Phillips being both older than Garcia and his ability to play only one position (and a less sought after position than starting pitcher), I would be surprised if he netted more value than Garcia – perhaps a lower level prospect, but one with some potential whose likely further off. It’s also reasonable that the Braves could increase the return by pairing Phillips with another player, whether someone who could provide value to a playoff team on the MLB roster, like Jim Johnson, or a prospect at a deeper position on the farm. But Phillips himself isn’t going to be worth much, so brace yourself for this reality if the trade is made for just him.
What Type of Team Needs a Brandon Phillips?
Because of his expiring contract, only a team with some reasonable playoff hopes will consider Phillips. The team also will either desperately need to strengthen its second base position due to that being a weak spot on the team, or have some uncertainty about their primary second baseman and need a reliable option behind him. This second option is complicated by the limited no trade clause. While I’m sure Phillips wants to be on a contending team, I doubt he wants to be on it as a backup. There also are quite a few second baseman potentially on the market, but few will come with less financial or prospect cost than Phillips.
So let’s start with a process of elimination, which teams definitely don’t need Phillips?
These teams are not in playoff contention (games out of playoffs as of July 26th in parenthesis):
- Philadelphia Phillies (-21)
- San Francisco Giants (-18)
- San Diego Padres (-13)
- Chicago White Sox (-13)
- Cincinnati Reds (-12.5)
- Miami Marlins (-10)
- Oakland Athletics (-9.5)
- New York Mets (-9)
- Detroit Tigers (-8)
- Toronto Blue Jays (-6.5)
Hmmm, that eliminated less than anticipated, largely due to the weaker wild cards in the AL. Also, the Blue Jays might still be in it, but they have quite a few teams to pass. Perhaps more importantly, I would bet all $4.96 I have to my name that the Canadian team is on Phillips no trade list, and if trade talks started with Toronto, he’d nip that one in the bud.
So of the teams remaining, which might benefit from an improved second baseman? And are they a potential match for Brandon Phillips?
Team-By-Team Analysis of Second Base (Abridged)
Each team with some shot at the playoffs – and therefore possibly buyers for Phillips – is listed by League in order of descending record. As a point of reference, the primary 2nd baseman and backup are also listed along with their season fWAR (through July 26th).
- The Dodgers strength is not at second base with Logan Forsythe and 38-year-old Chase Utley splitting time there. However, two things make me think this is an unlikely landing spot for Brandon Phillips. The first is that Utley is basically playing the role Phillips could play for a team. The second is that left fielder Chris Taylor is also an adequate second baseman, and his 3.5 WAR would play well there in a pinch. So this is not a fit.
- Match: No
- The division rival Nationals are an unlikely match. Daniel Murphy has the position solidified, even if Stephen Drew is a replacement level back up forced into regular service at short stop by Trea Turner’s broken wrist. This could be a possibility, but with Daniel Murphy a second base only guy, it would be purely a backup role, and there’s still that division rival issue.
- Match: No
Record 58-43 | Brandon Drury, 1.1 fWAR | Danny Descalso, 0.3 fWAR
- Former Braves farm hand Brandon Drury is adequately, if unspectacularly holding down second base. Phillips would be a parallel move at best and likely a slight downgrade due to Drury being the better defender. Danny Descalso isn’t as good a backup as Phillips would be, but he’s one of a handful of semi-adequate options.
- Match: No
- A season after establishing himself offensively, LeMahieu has underwhelmed offensively as the Rockies everyday second baseman, posting just an 87 wRC+, but with good defense. Valaika is a recently called up 24-year old playing well on offense and who is a good defender around the infield, but very inexperienced and good results are coming with bad plate discipline and more power than expected. There’s a lot of uncertainty here, but there is an entrenched second baseman and a number of backup options, even if untested. The deciding factor here is that LeMahieu isn’t performing that much worse than Phillips, so there’s not enough of an upgrade.
- Match: No
- These fWAR values seem backwards as Villar fell off the map this year after several solid seasons, but Sogard stepped up with a 132 wRC+ in 174 plate appearances this season despite being a career 79 wRC+ hitter in his previous 1,505 plate appearances. For a Brewers team that suddenly finds itself on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, this is a definite area that could use some short-term shoring up with a dependable player. The Brewers have been linked to Kinsler, who’s only a hair of an upgrade over Phillips because of his still plus defense, but it comes at a noticeably larger cost.
- Match: Yes
- The Cubs are surging despite underwhelming output from second base, where Baez and Zobrist have both logged some innings. Both still play good defense, but 36-year-old Zobrist is losing his magic at the plate and the Cubs have to start wondering if Baez actually had any magic to begin with. Our old friend Tommy La Stella is also lurking around and putting up some really good numbers (142 wRC+) in a really small sample (70 PAs) as he’s bounced up and down from AAA. There’s definitely some uncertainty here, but it’s hard to imagine the Cubs see Phillips as a worthwhile upgrade over a similar player in Zobrist, especially with Zobrist defensive flexibility.
- Match: No
St. Louis Cardinals
Record 50-51 | Kolton Wong, 0.8 fWAR | Greg Garcia, 0.2 fWAR
- Wong is hitting well (112 wRC+) as the primary second baseman and playing good enough defense, although he hasn’t held the position consistently. Greg Garcia backs up regularly in a fairly underwhelming way, but many others can and have played second for the Cards, including young shortstop Paul DeJong, whose played well on both sides of the ball, and veteran first baseman Matt Carpenter, whose at least playing well on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinals are in the odd position of being one game under .500 but only 3.5 games out of the weak NL Central, so they could go for it, but it’s hard to imagine they will focus on second base. In fact, Kurt Suzuki might be the best Braves fit here.
- Match: No
- The Pirates also find themselves in the uncertainty of buying or selling, but with Harrison on the team, they are set for a starter. I’ve tried to picture a scenario where Phillips fits in as a backup, especially since Harrison will slide over to third pretty regularly to cover for a struggling David Freese, and based on platoon splits, it could work. But I don’t see the difference being great enough to make it worth it, especially when we all know the Pirates aren’t reeeaallly in it. They are more likely to trade Harrison as trade for Phillips.
- Match: No
- Mike Gonzalez is the starting shortstop who can slide over to cover second in a pinch with Alex Bregman sliding from third to shortstop. If you still think the Astros would have any interest in Phillips after reading those names, something’s wrong with you.
- Match: No
- Dustin Pedroia might not be what he once was, but he is still Dustin Pedroia, and that’s still a really good second baseman. To back him up, the Red Sox just traded for Eduardo Nunez, who was the Giants version of Brandon Phillips, an average player on an expiring contract. He just happens to be six years younger and can also provide help with the Red Sox more glaring need at third base. Versatility really helps trade value.
- Match: No
- Jason Kipnis is still the starting second baseman for the Cleveland Indians, but he sure hasn’t been playing like it, struggling to an 81 wRC+ at the plate after putting up a 117 wRC+ from 2013 through 2016. On top of that, Kipnis has been out of the lineup with a hamstring injury since July 8th and has yet to start a rehab assignment. Doing most of the filling in is Erik Gonzalez, as 25-year-old fresh up from the farm, who has managed to put up a 101 wRC+ in 72 bats, but with a .432 BABiP. Young phenom Jose Ramirez is also in the second base mix while Kipnis is out, but that still leaves third base to some very green rookies. There’s not a clear long-term spot at second base open for Phillips, but because of his very cheap price, the Indians could see him as a short-term solution and some long-term insurance if Kipnis continues to struggle with his hamstring or with hitting the ball.
- Match: Yes
New York Yankees
Record 53-46 | Starling Castro, 1.4 fWAR | Ronald Torreyes, 0.5 fWAR
- Castro was the productive – even if defensively challenged – second baseman through June. But he missed much of the first of July with a hamstring injury, and after returning for a week, was placed on the 10-Day DL again on Saturday with no clear timetable for his return. It appears that 24-year-old utility player Ronald Torreyes will get the bulk of the starts, and while his glove is an improvement, his bat is not, posting a 79 wRC+ in 204 plate appearances this year. That’s a pretty steep drop in production from Castro’s 116 wRC+. There’s a chance Castro will return in early August, but there’s also a chance he could miss August. Based on this and the lack of a steady replacement, a cheap veteran option could be a target for the Yankees. And seeing how Garrett Cooper is off to a really slow start, maybe they’d still have interest in Matt Adams, too? Just thinking out loud.
- Match: Yes
- At 28 years old, Whit Merrifield emerging from years at AAA to establish himself as good all-around second baseman is a little surprising, but this is the sort of stuff that happens in baseball. Merrifield has posted a 115 wRC+ with 16 steals and strong defense. At 24 years old, Ramon Torres is making his MLB debut at a more traditional age, but also with a more typical pedestrian outcome in his first 59 plate appearances, showing a good glove but limited bat. It’s possible the new nature of Merrifield’s success and limited depth behind him could be a reason to look for cheap second base insurance, but for the Royals, that person needs to play shortstop, too. That’s where their infield hole is, and Phillips can’t fill it. However, Merrifield can play left field, where once star Alex Gordon is quickly declining toward unplayable at the plate (57 wRC+), and Phillips could add value by giving the Royals the option to sit Gordon and let Merrifield cover left, while Phillips covers second. It would be a cheap way to shore up a Royals team precariously sitting one game out of the division and one game in the last wild card spot.
- Match: Yes
- After a productive 2016, Brad Miller has fallen off on offense and defense, has fallen over and gotten injured a few times, and also has fallen off second base, losing playing time to Tim Beckham. Beckham’s 99 wRC+ isn’t jaw dropping and his defense is just adequate, but his average play has added value, especially when compared to Miller. However, Beckham was playing shortstop for Matt Duffy, who has missed the entire season due to injury. Beckham was only able to move to second base more regularly because the Rays picked up Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins in late June, and Hechavarria has underwhelmed at the plate even more than usual since his arrival (73 wRC+ with Marlins; 45 wRC+ with Rays). That’s a lot of moving pieces to try and cover a middle infield that is still stretched thin. That said, it’s hard to imagine them bringing in Phillips after trading for Hechavarria and with Duffy resuming baseball activities and possibly returning, maybe, at some point.
- Match: Maybe
Record 51-52 | Robinson Cano, 2.0 fWAR | Danny Espinoza, -0.8 fWAR
- Cano isn’t having his best season by his standards, but he’s still better than most second baseman. The overwhelmingly underwhelming Danny Espinoza was just brought in to back up every position with solid defense and a bat that disappeared with the Nationals to the point his bad attitude was expendable, earning him a Winter trade to the Angels, where his bat disappeared to the point he was simply released by the Angels. Still, Cano is doing fine, and the Mariners need pitching help way more than second base help if they are hoping to make up the 3.5 games in a crowded wild card field. Being in the same division as the Astros, that’s there only shot.
- Match: No
- Dozier has just been okay and Escobar is an adequate backup, but this one is easy: If the Twins wanted Phillips, they would’ve worked him into the Jaime Garcia deal. Because they already have a veteran second baseman and an adequate backup, they didn’t.
- Match: No
- Odor is the entrenched second baseman, but he’s a noticeable weak spot on the diamond. Robinson is a recent call up with little experience playing a utility role. The Rangers are only 4.5 games out of the wild card and could make a move in order to go for it, but rumors of trading their best pitcher by a mile in Yu Darvish indicate they may see their role as sellers, not an unwise decision considering they are behind three other teams and sit three games below .500. Still, if they were to buy, the Braves match up pretty well. In fact, the Rangers could potentially benefit from all of the Braves most likely trade chips with Jonathan Lucroy struggling as a now-backup behind the plate (Hello Kurt Suzuki), Mike Napoli struggling at DH/1B (Hello Matt Adams) and a bullpen that could use some depth (Hello, pick one). If they decide to go for it, Phillips (and others) fit, but the wise decision might be the one they seem to be leaning toward: sell and get what you can for Darvish.
- Match: Maybe
- Franklin (47 wRC+), DFA’d by the Brewers, was acquired by the Angels, and is actually taking playing time away from Pennington (79 wRC+). If Franklin is taking playing time from anyone, then I smell the fire from a dumpster. Recent call up Kaleb Cowart is there best hope since he’s actually been good at the plate in both of his two starts, but I’m pretty sure that constitutes a small sample. While there is clearly need here, there is not a more all-or-nothing team from position to position than the Angels, and they have plenty of other needs. Phillips could be a fit, but he’d have to be one of many, and really, the Angels aren’t really in a position to go for it without MUCH more help than Phillips. Like the Rangers, the Braves could match up to provide some of it at relatively low cost. However, the Angels aren’t going anywhere without some serious pitching help beyond what the Braves can likely offer. [Note: I almost included them in the “not in it” list, but there situation at second was so bad I couldn’t help but want to write about it.]
- Match: Maybe
Record 48-53 | Jonathan Schoop, 2.5 fWAR | See Jonathan Schoop
- Let’s make this last one easy. The 25-year-old Schoop has established himself at second base. The Orioles are only 5.5 out of the wild card and 7.0 out of the division, but that’s due to a weak wild card and weak AL East this year. They are still five game under .500 and closer to bottom 10 in baseball than the playoffs. The Orioles seem to recognize there position as Zach Britton and other members of their solid relief corps appear to be on the market.
- Match: No
Ranking the Fit of Potential Trade Partners
Based on the analysis above, there are seven teams with any potential need, and some of these are long shots at best. After analyzing the teams, this is how I rank them and why:
The Brewers, much like the Twins, are likely not in a position where they want to invest heavily in making a run this year, but second base is a spot the could shore up with an average second baseman to keep from continuing to free fall out of the playoff picture. The biggest hang up would be the possibility this northern team might be on Phillips no-trade list, and he might nix this deal based on location and the team not looking like real contenders.
There is a lot of uncertainty at second base due to Kipnis’ injury, Kipnis declining performance, and no clear backup that can provide the same value as Phillips. For a playoff team, this is an area where they could get needed value added cheaply, especially since they don’t necessarily need a long-term fix here, just a fill-in. Even though Phillips would likely lose playing time if Kipnis comes back healthy, it’s unlikely the Indians are on his no-trade list, and as legitimate playoff contenders, he might approve the trade anyway.
Pretty much the same scenario as the Indians, but Castro was performing better than Kipnis and the Yankees are less of a sure thing for the playoffs than the Indians. So playing time and playoff chances would be less. I’m not sure Phillips personal feelings toward the Yankees, but he seems like a guy who likes the spotlight and I doubt they’d be on his no trade list. So none of that would really matter if the Yankees think he’d make a cheap fill-in/backup.
Shifting Merrifield to left and playing Phillips at second every day has value to a team in the thick of the playoff battle. Are they willing to bench Alex Gordon for another aging vet? It would be a cheap upgrade but a difficult choice. Not sure if Royals would be on his no trade list or if Phillips would waive it, but I’d suspect they weren’t on the list and he’d consider waiving it if they were.
Sitting tantalizing close to the playoffs, the known cheapskates of baseball could see Phillips as a cheap value boosts for a middle infield that isn’t doing much of value. But with Beckham playing decently and the recent acquisition of Hechavarria, it seems like more of a long shot. This also seems like a team that could be on the no-trade list, and Phillips might not want to play in Tampa Bay for a team likely too cheap to really go for it.
If the Rangers go for it, and are willing to take a chance Odor will punch them in the face if they relegate him to the bench, Phillips could work as a cheaper trade. They would need some of these as their needs are much more vast than second base. They are better positioned to be sellers than buyers in my opinion.
The Angels are like the Rangers, only it’s more obvious they should be sellers. They could use a second baseman if they decide to go for it, but this seems like a team likely on the no-trade list and likely for Phillips to nix any proposed trade.
While Phillips is the most likely Brave to be traded based on his expiring contract, there are clearly complications to matching up any trade, both in terms of the other team’s need and Phillips ability to kill trades to 12 unknown teams. However, there are some real possibilities out there.
Which do you think are the best trade partners?
Which Teams Match Up Best for Brandon Phillips Trade (select up to three)?
- Indians (20%, 93 Votes)
- Brewers (20%, 91 Votes)
- Yankees (16%, 76 Votes)
- None: No one wants him (13%, 58 Votes)
- Royals (10%, 44 Votes)
- None: I want to keep him (9%, 41 Votes)
- Rays (4%, 20 Votes)
- Angels (4%, 20 Votes)
- Rangers (4%, 17 Votes)
- Other (1%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 323
Share any thoughts of your own in the comments.