JAN. 6: Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM cites a Reds source in reporting that there’s still a possibility of a trade that would send Phillips to Atlanta, with the Reds picking up the majority of the money that remains on the contract. He adds, though, that Reds executives “acknowledge that they made promises and assurances to Phillips that they are not living up to” and will need to work through those issues with Phillips before a deal. Moving Phillips would allow the Reds to clear an easier path to playing time for Jose Peraza and potentially for Dilson Herrera as well.
JAN. 5: The Reds had worked out a deal that would have sent second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Braves, but he utilized his no-trade protection to scuttle the arrangement, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Phillips’s no-trade clause previously got in the way of potential trades last winter.
While Phillips is a Georgia native who (per Rosenthal) owns a home in Atlanta, he still wasn’t amenable to the move. There was no discussion of an extension this time around, according to the report; the Braves would not have been interested, and Phillips made his view clear before that subject was even broached.
This latest episode raises the question whether the 35-year-old Phillips will ever be a movable asset for Cincinnati, which had been set to retain “a significant portion” of his $14MM salary as part of the proposed trade. He’s in the final year of his contract, and it seems all but inevitable that he’ll land elsewhere after the 2017 season. But Phillips is still holding firm on his desire to remain in Cincinnati as something of a “matter of principle,” per Rosenthal, who says that Phillips would only be willing to sign onto a deal if “certain, unspecified issues” are dealt with by any acquiring team.
While Phillips is more than entitled to utilize the no-trade clause (which he earned through ten-and-five rights) in whatever manner he chooses, it’s certainly something of an odd situation. The Reds have a variety of young infielders they’d surely like to expose more to the majors in the coming year, which could bite into Phillips’s own playing time.
Long a productive regular who combined excellent glovework with solid overall offensive production, Phillips has declined of late. Since the start of the 2014 season, he has slashed .285/.319/.396, which amounts to slightly below-average (94 OPS+) work at the plate. Phillips has returned to running more, though his 14 stolen bases in 2016 came at the cost of being caught on eight other attempts. And he’s still good for about a dozen home runs per year. The most concerning change, perhaps, comes on the defensive side. Phillips has long rated as a well-above-average defender at second, but took a bit of a step back in 2015 and drew negative metrics in his most recent season.
Still, Phillips would represent a steadying presence in the right organization — particularly, one that has taken a positive view through recent scouting assessments. If he can bounce back in the field, there’s reason to hope that he could put up a season worthy of regular play despite the fact that he was worth less than one win above replacement last year. A right-handed hitter, Phillips has never carried drastic platoon splits and actually fared better against same-handed pitching in 2016.
Though it’s still theoretically possible that the sides could revisit a deal, Rosenthal says that’s not seen as a likely scenario. When Rodriguez inked his deal in late November, that added a second-base-capable, right-handed bat and perhaps absorbed some of the salary that might have been allocated to Phillips.
“We explore a myriad of trade opportunities,” Braves GM John Coppolella tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, “some which make more progress than others, and some which get more media attention than others. Trades aren’t done until they are done.”
That being said, it’s still imaginable that Atlanta will consider moving to bolster its mix at second and third base. Rodriguez has experience at both spots, creating some flexibility. But it’s far from clear that Adonis Garcia will be a worthwhile semi-regular at the hot corner. The left-handed-hitting Jace Peterson is also on hand, of course, and perhaps top prospect Ozzie Albies will be ready sooner than later, but the Braves have already made several 2017-centric moves, attempting to improve the near-term outlook without sacrificing the future.
If Atlanta does take a look at adding another infielder, there are any number of trade targets that it could pursue. And the open market still features a variety of second and third basemen that might conceivably be of interest. That includes righty hitters such as Aaron Hill and Trevor Plouffe, as well as lefty bats like Luis Valbuena, Chase Utley, Stephen Drew, Chris Coghlan, and — of course — perennial favorite Kelly Johnson.
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested that Phillips’s decision was influenced by the signing of Rodriguez.