Brandon Phillips finally decided to waive his no-trade clause and allow the Reds to trade him to the Braves. To complete the deal, Atlanta will be sending LHP Andrew McKirahan and RHP Carlos Portuondo to Cincinnati. Phillips is entering the last year of his six-year, $72.5-million extension that he signed in 2012.
This is not exactly breaking news, but this is not the first time the Reds have tried to trade Phillips. The team is rebuilding and has no need for an aging veteran, even if he is not making that much money. They tried to trade Phillips to the Nationals last offseason, but he has a no-trade clause as a result of his 10-and-5 rights, so he blocked it.
Phillips used that leverage similarly to how Jonathan Lucroy used it against Cleveland, by stating that he would not waive his no-trade clause without an extension. Though he had just come off a 3.5-bWAR season, most of that was from defense and baserunning, as he was barely a league-average hitter. The Nationals smartly decided against giving the second baseman entering his age-35 season an extension. It worked out well for the Nationals because they ended up signing Daniel Murphy.
What’s strange is that Phillips had already turned down a trade to Atlanta just last month. It will be interesting to hear why Phillips had the sudden change of heart. Whether he will admit it or not, I’m guessing the Reds strongly emphasized the fact that he would be getting reduced playing time. With the Braves, he would get a chance to play every day and share the keystone with NL Rookie of the Year candidate Dansby Swanson.
After the Braves’ first failed attempt to acquire Phillips, they instead went out and signed Sean Rodriguez to a two-year, $11.5-million deal to play second base. He was coming off a career year where he hit .270/.349/.510 with 18 HR in only 342 PA. However, he struck out 30 percent of the time, and he had a .344 BABIP and 25 percent HR/FB ratio. Obviously that is all unsustainable and not worth what little money the rebuilding Braves were paying, but the team is adamant about putting out as many notable players as they can for 2017. Unfortunately, Rodriguez is going to miss 3-5 months recovering from shoulder surgery, so the Braves again had nobody of note to play second base.
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McKirahan and Portuondo are complete non-prospects. McKirahan is a 27-year-old reliever whose only major-league experience is 27 1⁄3 IP in 2015 where he had a 5.93 RA9. Portuondo is a 29-year-old reliever from Cuba with barely any experience pitching in America.
The Reds accepting this return — and eating $13 million of the $14 million left on Phillips’s contract — shows that they clearly just wanted to get rid of Phillips so they could focus on developing José Peraza and Dilson Herrera. If the league allowed teams to just give players away or trade them only for cash, then Cincinnati likely would have done so.
Peraza, who coincidentally was originally signed by the Braves, will likely be the Reds’ everyday second baseman. They are likely hoping that he builds on his excellent second half, where he hit .355/.380/.477 in 184 PA. However, like in the minors, he barely walked and did not hit for much power. He also had a .389 BABIP. It is a small-sample aberration that he has no shot at reproducing. There are concerns about whether Peraza’s bat can handle the major league level, but if he can play great defense at second, that along with his speed could make him an everyday player (as long as he can hit some, at least).
If Peraza does not work out, Dilson Herrera, whom the Reds acquired in the Jay Bruce trade, would be another good option. I don’t know what they do with Peraza if that happens, though. Billy Hamilton is in center, and if Peraza can’t hit enough for second base, he certainly will not hit enough for a corner outfield spot.
On the other side, the Braves have a very bright future, but they still will not be competitive in 2017, and with the Big Con opening this year — a stadium that will rob taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars without even giving them a chance to vote on it or oppose it in anyway, even though the Liberty Media Chairman, John Malone, is worth $7 billion — they needed something to draw fans in.
Atlanta acquired Matt Kemp, Bartolo Colón, and R.A. Dickey mostly on name value, and we can now add Brandon Phillips to that list. He has always been a likable, popular player with the fans, but his best days are behind him. Last year he hit .291/.320/.416, which was good for only a 92 wRC+ and 0.8 bWAR. His poor defensive metrics might just have been a one-year fluke, but his offense is likely to continue to decline. Steamer has him projected at a meager 83 wRC+ for 2017.
What would really work out well for the Braves is if Phillips has a strong first half that they could leverage into some trade value. I do not see a team paying much for a two- to three-month rental, but desperate teams have overpaid before.
All in all, it is an odd trade because you never see a rebuilding, non-competitive team trade for business reasons. The baseball reasons work out more strongly in the Reds’ favor. The Braves get a recognizable name whom they can put on advertisements. Let’s be honest, though. There is no way that the Braves make this deal if it were not for that abomination opening in Cobb County this year.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.