The Rays have acquired outfielder Brett Phillips from the Royals in exchange for minor league infielder Lucius Fox, the teams announced. Both players are on the 40-man roster, so corresponding 40-man moves aren’t necessary.
It’s a swap of two once-heralded young talents whose respective stocks have dipped in recent years. Phillips, 26, went from the Astros to the Brewers alongside Josh Hader in the famed Mike Fiers/Carlos Gomez deal. At the time, he was a top 50 prospect who was regarded as a potential five-tool superstar, but in the years since, his contact issues have continued to limit his value. Phillips went from Milwaukee to K.C. in the original Mike Moustakas trade, and he’s since settled in as an absolutely rocket-armed, plus defensive outfielder with power but major swing-and-miss issues at the plate.
It’s fun to think about what an outfield of Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot and Phillips could do from a defensive standpoint, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that in 358 MLB plate appearances, Phillips is a .205/.282/.344 hitter with an enormous 35.2% strikeout rate. His penchant for “did-he-just-do-that,” highlight-reel assists from any of the three outfield spots make him one of the game’s more entertaining defenders, but the Rays have some work to do if they are to coax anything out of Phillips from an offensive standpoint. Phillips is controllable through 2024, but he’s already out of minor league options, so the Rays have to keep him on the big league roster.
The 23-year-old Fox, meanwhile, is a switch-hitting Bahamian shortstop who signed a hefty $6MM bonus with the Giants back in 2015. That deal came near the peak of aggressive spending on international amateurs that preceded the hard-capped bonus pools which are now in place under the 2016-21 CBA. He was seen at the time as an athletic, high-contact middle infielder or center fielder with speed and the potential to grow into a bit more power than he had, but Fox hasn’t developed at the plate as hoped.
He lasted just one season with the Giants before being traded to the Rays as part of their return for Matt Moore, and there was some controversy when it was discovered post-trade that Fox had been playing through a foot injury which was not disclosed to the Rays. Fox eventually settled in as a mid-range prospect in a deep Rays system, but his stock has continued to dip as he’s posted pedestrian minor league numbers. He spent most of the 2019 season in Double-A, where he hit .230/.340/.342 with three homers and 37 steals. The speed is surely a highly appealing trait to a Royals club that tends to stockpile stolen-base threats, but Fox’s overall offensive game has yet to come together.