An icon of the NL Central was been traded over the weekend, with the details regarding Brandon Phillips going from Cincinnati to the Atlanta Braves described here at MLB Trade Rumors. Phillips has been a 3-time All-Star second baseman with the Cincinnati Reds in the 11 seasons he has manned that position since his 2006 acquisition from the Cleveland Indians. Phillips has added 4 Gold Gloves and 1 Silver Slugger award to his resume as well. He is a good-hitting, solid defending, thoroughly entertaining player that has accumulated a WAR of 32.9 for the Red Legs.
But he is 35 (36 in June) now, on a rebuilding team, with at least one - and possibly two - players ready to take over his spot. Jose Peraza slashed .324/.352/.411 last season in a utility role with the Reds, while former Met prospect Dilson Herrera (Jay Bruce trade) slashed .274/.332/.451 at AAA for the Mets and the Reds combined at AAA last season.
So the Brewers won’t see Phillips as often as they did in the past eleven seasons, and he may not even be a full-time player in Atlanta. That isn’t what I came here to talk about, though. I came to talk about what the Brewers can learn from this.
Phillips has at least thrice nixed trades that would have sent him to the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks last season, and the Braves previously this off season, as reported in the MLB Trade Rumors article. Phillips had a total no-trade clause due to service time, and the Braves will continue to give him a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 12 teams. He will also receive an “assignment bonus” of $500K if he’s traded again. Perhaps he was waiting for those two assurances before agreeing to a trade, or perhaps the Reds finally told him that he would no longer be starting in Cincy and this way he could choose where he landed. The Brewers face some of these questions with Ryan Braun.
The situations aren’t synonymous, of course. When Phillips was approaching his no-trade clause by service time the Reds were expecting to contend every season with a solid line-up, a good rotation, and a shut-down closer, so there was no thought of trading him. Due to injuries, performance, and perhaps not as solid of a team as the Reds’ administration thought, Cincinnati never reached the success they had hoped for. Ryan Braun is now the face of a Brewers team totally into a rebuild as he approaches his full no-trade clause this May. If one of the six teams included on Braun’s list of teams he would go to wishes to acquire him without having to worry about navigating a full past a no-trade clause, now is the time to act.
Obviously a trade could happen after May for Braun and the Brewers, if Milwaukee determines that a young outfielder deserves that spot and Braun is willing to agree to a deal. But look at what the Reds are doing: they are paying at least a large chunk of Phillips’ salary to play for Atlanta, and have acquired two older minor league pitchers that are unlikely to contribute to the major league team. The only benefit they receive is that second base is no longer blocked. A situation like that would be very tough for the Brewers. The Brewers minor league system is seemingly well stocked with good outfield prospects, and having Braun on the roster through the end of his deal (through the 2020 season) would be expensive while perhaps also hampering the development of said outfield prospects. As a small market franchise, the Brewers cannot afford to be paying twenty million dollars (give or take) for Ryan Braun to play somewhere else.
On the other side of that, Ryan Braun is still a very productive major league hitter, and the Brewers could be contending sooner rather than later - perhaps as early as 2018, if not in 2017 with everything breaking correctly. (Naturally, pitching will have a lot to say about that.) Having Braun in the lineup is probably a big plus over any of the youngsters at this point, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to remain productive for the duration of his deal. It is indeed a puzzle. When, and if, to pull the trigger on trading a star like Braun (38.7 fWAR over his Brewer career) is a very tough decision for Slingin’ Stearns and the front office.
The Reds’ cost of ridding themselves of Phillips is a strong indicator that the Brewers may have to make a long-term decision on the direction of the team within the next few months, though that decision may already have been made. It appears that the market for Braun would not return enough in prospects and/or salary relief to make a deal desirable for Milwaukee, and unless something changes in the very near future, the chances appear to good that Ryan Braun will likely retire as a Brewer.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs