Traded IF Brandon Phillips and cash to the Los Angeles Angels for C Tony Sanchez
I Used To Love Her
The Braves traded for the 36-year-old Brandon Phillips on the cusp of spring training, hot on the heels of an evaluation on Sean Rodriguez‘s shoulder that he would have to have surgery to repair damage to his rotator cuff suffered in a tragic car accident in the off-season.
Phillips was brought in as a stop-gap, someone to fill in at second base while Rodriguez recuperated and heir apparent Ozzie Albies healed from his own injury and knocked the rust off in AAA Gwinnett. To that end, the Braves have to be delighted with what they got from Phillips in 2017: a .291/.329/.423 slash line in 499 plate appearances, a 96 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR of value. To put that in perspective, the last time a Braves second baseman accumulated that much value in a single season was Dan Uggla back in 2012.
That the Braves were able to secure Phillips’s services for two extremely unremarkable minor leaguers and have Cincinnati pay all but $1 million of the $14 million owed to Phillips in the final year of a contract extension and also get a throw-in prospect in the form of player-to-be-named-later Kevin Franklin makes the acquisition of Phillips a slam dunk win for the Braves
But It’s All Over Now
That all said, it was time for Phillips to fulfill the second purpose of his acquisition… to be flipped to a contending team. That it took until the last day of August to finalize a trade had more to do with the weak market for rental players and the complexities around the no-trade clause that the Braves inherited with Phillips’s contract than anything anything around the player himself.
But a suitor was found, in the form of the Los Angeles Angels, a team just a game back in the American League wild card race and who previously had traded for old friend Justin Upton from the Detroit Tigers to shore up weak production from left field. Even worse than left field is the production that the Angels had gotten from second base, where their combined -0.2 fWAR ranked fourth from last in the majors. Phillips should provide a solid burst of production for the Angels down the stretch.
For the Braves, the trade allows the team to play Ozzie Albies and some combination of Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz for the rest of the month. The front office is making plans for 2018 now, and third base has been cited recently by John Coppolella as an area of concern on the team. Camargo and/or Ruiz have a month to ease minds there, or it’s likely the team will make an off-season move for either a long-term solution, or yet another veteran stop-gap until Mississippi’s Austin Riley or another candidate presents himself as a viable option.
It Was a Pity How I Cried
Despite only being with the organization for six months, fans really took to Brandon Phillips. He’s an easy player to root for as he plays the game with clear joy. It also helped that Atlanta fans got to see Phillips hit some significant career milestones, 200 home runs and 2000 hits. That he grew up locally and had family roots was bonus as well.
As such there has been an on-line backlash against this trade. The heart wants what the heart wants of course, but fans should realize what a boon the Braves have given Phillips with this trade. He is a free agent after this season, and is unlikely to return to the club (though Coppolella did leave the door open in his comments after the trade). He has likely increased his earning potential by demonstrating over the last month a solid aptitude for playing third base, which helps mitigate some risk that his decreasing range at second base may make him unplayable to a contending club. Now he has the chance to show his worth in the spotlight of a playoff run. It’s unclear what kind of market Brandon Phillips would have had in the offseason, but this trade is the Braves really doing a solid for Phillips.
The secondary cause of angst is the lack of return to the Braves. Twenty-nine year old journeyman catcher Tony Sanchez hasn’t seen the majors since being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that drafted him with the 4th-overall pick in the 2009 draft, before the 2016 season. However, the catching position remains an area of weakness, especially at the AAA level. With Tyler Flowers out an indefinite amount of time and fellow journeyman David Freitas in the majors, Sanchez will join Atlanta as a third catcher down the stretch. With Kurt Suzuki ready to test the free agent waters again after a very good 2017 campaign with Atlanta, both Freitas and Sanchez can be evaluated to see if either could potentially fill the back-up catcher role next season.
Sanchez isn’t expected to be a difference maker for Atlanta, but fans should keep in mind that the market for rental position players was very light this season. The best on the market, J.D. Martinez, moved from Detroit to Arizona in July for a startlingly small return. Reports are that the Angels are picking up the $500,000 bonus owed to Phillips in case of a trade. The Braves held out until the last possible day to move Phillips, but if there was a better deal to be had out there, they obviously would have taken it. Sanchez fills an immediate need, and is also under team control through 2023 if the team wants him around that long.