Three-time All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips has reportedly been traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Atlanta Braves, in exchange for two minor leaguers, LHP Andrew McKirahan and RHP Carlos Portuondo.
Phillips, who has played for the Reds since 2006, waived his no-trade clause, a clause he has used to nix multiple trades previously, to return to his home state of Georgia. The Stone Mountain native has over 12 years of MLB experience, and will turn 36 in June.
The Reds agreed to pay $13 million of Phillips’ $14 million salary for 2017, the final season of a 10-year deal he signed before the 2008 season.
The Braves and Reds both won an identical 68 games in the 2016 season (Braves 68-93, Reds 68-94), but now after agreeing to this deal, two of the game’s oldest franchises have shown how much they are going in opposite directions entering the 2017 season and beyond.
The Braves are on the back end of a rebuilding project, and enter 2017 in a position to be much more competitive than they have been the last two seasons (67-95 in 2015, 68-93 in 2016).
After the firing of GM Frank Wren in 2014, the front office agreed rebuilding the Braves’ minor-league system was the best solution for long-term success, and the club went all in on a massive rebuild. As a result, every ranking of farm systems has the Braves at or near the top, and most pundits project the major league club to be more competitive in 2017 and contenders for several years after.
The Braves reportedly first attempted to trade for Phillips early in the offseason, before the free-agent signing of Sean Rodriguez. But Saturday, after the announcement that Rodriguez would be out three to five months with a shoulder injury suffered in a car accident, the team stared at a possible weak spot at second base, and trade talks with the Reds resumed, and then commenced, quickly.
Phillips, who hit .291 with 11 HR, 64 RBI and 34 doubles in 2016, is no longer at his peak performance–he is a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, both most recently in 2013–but is still a solid addition for the Braves, adding more offensive depth and another veteran to lead a clubhouse that blends lots of youth and experience.
Adding a local player, from Redan High School in the eastern Atlanta suburbs, won’t hurt the Braves at the box office either, as they move into a new home at SunTrust Park for the 2017 season.
The addition of Phillips fits the Braves’ pattern from this offseason. With a bevy of prospects in the minor leagues who could be big-league ready in a year or two, the Braves don’t want long-term deals with players who may block said prospects’ path at their given position.
As a result, the team signed veteran free agent pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey (both former Cy Young winners), traded for Jaime Garcia, and has now traded for Phillips. All except Dickey (club option for 2018) will be free agents after 2017.
With these additions, the young talent like Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Dansby Swanson and others already at the major league level, and the highly-touted prospects the team has waiting in the wings in the minor leagues, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Braves, and it’s not just a candle, but a flood light.
The turnaround of the club’s outlook in just a two-year span since starting their overhaul is impressive, especially considering how many other teams in baseball have been somewhat non-committal as they entered a rebuilding phase, and now appear to face a lengthy period of mediocrity as a result.
The Reds appear to potentially be one of these teams. After three playoff appearances in four seasons between 2010-13, the Reds dropped to 76-86 in 2014 and 64-98 in 2015. The core of those playoff teams–players including Phillips, Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Mat Latos, Edinson Volquez and Aroldis Chapman–is gone, with the exception of Joey Votto (signed through 2023).
While some of those players left in trades (others were free agents) and allowed the team to get prospects, the Reds’ farm system is considered by most analysts to be mid-pack. The team does own the ninth-ranked prospect in the just-released Baseball America Top 100 (3B Nick Senzel), he is the only Reds player in the top 68, and they only have three of the top 100 (the Braves, by comparison, have eight, including two of the top 11).
Most metrics have the Reds winning less than 70 games in 2017, and those projections likely came when Phillips was still with the team.
According to reports since the trade, the Reds may have viewed Phillips as a problem, with his presence potentially blocking younger players–potential parts of the Reds future–from playing time, namely infielders Jose Peraza (ironically a former Braves farmhand), and Dilson Herrera.
This is further evident when considering the return for Phillips. McKirahan is a former Rule 5 Draft pick, who missed half the 2015 season with a PED suspension, then all of 2016 with Tommy John Surgery. The 27-year old was not expected to contend for the Opening Day Roster in Braves spring training, although with the Reds’ lack of bullpen depth, with a good spring he could potentially threaten to make the Cincinnati club.
Portuondo is a 29-year old Cuban defector, viewed more as “organizational depth” than a prospect after eight mediocre seasons in the Cuban league, and a 3.63 ERA across two minor-league levels in 2016, his first season in American pro baseball.
The fact the Reds are willing to pay $13 million of Phillips’ $14 million while he takes at-bats for another team in exchange for two players who may never make it to Cincinnati says a lot about the state of the franchise entering the 2017 season.
While the Reds continue their dive into the beginning phases of a potentially lengthy rebuilding process, further cementing their path with the trade of Phillips, the Braves are coming out of their own, and the acquisition of Phillips further equips them in their role as a sleeper team for the 2017 season.
*One interesting note for the Braves: RHP Bartolo Colon and Brandon Phillips were once traded for each other in 2002, in a deal between the Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians; the pair will now, nearing the ends of their careers, play together for the first time.