The Cincinnati Reds will have their hands full this offseason. There are questions surrounding several core members of the team: Is retaining the services of Shin-Soo Choo fiscally plausible? Are the Reds realistically able to extend the contracts of vital young pitchers like Mat Latos and Homer Bailey? Should we already assume Bronson Arroyo is taking his acoustic act on the road?
That's not even considering the fact that Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Alfredo Simon and Aroldis Chapman, among a handful of others, are all arbitration eligible. But while Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty have their work cut out for them on those pivotal fronts, there's still the matter of All-Star Brandon Phillips and what they do with him.
At this point, it's no secret the Reds are aggressively shopping the recent recipient of another Gold Glove. The very topic is becoming increasingly polarizing for Cincinnati fans, due in large because of how popular Phillips is. He's easily one of the more approachable, fan-friendly Reds who has arguably become the face of the franchise.
Still, despite all the time he's spent in Cincinnati, despite his true affinity for this city, the people, the Reds—Brandon Phillips will more than likely be traded. Here's why.
An undeniably favorable trait about Brandon Phillips is one of the very same reasons he'll probably be dealt this offseason. Reportedly, Bob Castellini was pretty pissed about Phillips' infamous "slap in the face" comments made during some obscure interview in the middle of the season. While even Joey Votto said he understood where Phillips was coming from, the fact that he felt the impulse to make those comments while literally in the middle of a pennant race should raise more than a few red flags.
It's definitely possible the words were solicited by the interviewer. It's possible that Phillips actually holds no malice about the contract and was just getting his initial feelings off his chest.
But it's irrelevant.
To make those comments, considering the position the Reds were in, denotes an enormous ego, which should come as no surprise. And it's good for guys to have egos, it means they care. But it's his need to vocalize those thoughts that's egregious. It's his desire to make news surrounding him instead of the team.
On air with Cincinnati radio host Lance McAlister, Mike Leake said he felt "guys were doing their own thing." While vague, it shouldn't be that hard to discern what he's talking about. No one else was talking about their contract situation during the season, including Choo, who could seldom go a day without a question regarding his.
Then, of course, there's the embarrassing display with Reds beat writer C.Trent Rosecrans where Phillips verbally pummeled the reporter in response to a tweet about his OBP. This moment may have said more about Dusty Baker than it did Brandon Phillips, but it doesn't detract from the pettiness Phillips demonstrated for the world to see. Once again, more headlines about Brandon Phillips that have nothing to do with what's happening on the field.
It's one thing to pick a fight with your team's biggest rivals. It's another to pick a fight with your team's press.
Way more important than anything about Phillips' character is the tangible evidence that he's simply declining, at least from an offensive standpoint. The evidence induces little confidence about Phillips' future—his numbers are trending down. Since 2010, Phillips has seen his batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS all decrease.
While those numbers aren't necessarily repulsive, they do leave a lot more to be desired from a guy expected to bat anywhere from first to fourth in the order. How much good does a .310 OBP do for a team that high in the order?
I know, I know—but he had over 100 RBI!
Brandon Phillips has been playing in the MLB since 2002, with a few stints here and there in AAA during his time with Cleveland. Since then, he's had precisely one season above 100 RBI. Is it a coincidence that season came in a year when Phillips was batting behind baseball's No. 2 and No. 4 OBP guys?
What would that total look like next year without Choo?
Furthermore, what is there to suggest that Brandon Phillips will reverse the poor trends? He's only getting older. Next year, he'll be 33. What can Phillips do, short of checking into an obscure Miami clinic, to somehow revert to his 2010 and 2011 performance?
How many 33-year-old second basemen inspire confidence at the plate? Marco Scutaro simply defies physics, considering he's two years short of 40 and finished the season hitting .297 with an OBP of .357. But that's just it. Brandon Phillips doesn't need to hit for .297. An OBP of .357, batting that high in the order, would do wonders for a mediocre Reds offense that often struggled to score runs.
There are plenty of candidates on this team to drive in runs. That's why Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick are here.
But even more important than his attitude or ego, the money Brandon Phillips commands may be too much for the Reds to sustain. There was plenty of controversy surrounding his remarks about being "slapped in the face" by Castellini's offer to Votto, but more imperative than that is the fact the Reds simply cannot afford to pay this man $50 million through 2017.
They can't. Not when they're in danger of losing the man with the fourth-best OBP in baseball. Is it fair to maintain Choo is more important to this offense than Phillips?
What about the money they'll need to secure Mat Latos beyond 2015, or Homer Bailey, who is arbitration eligible? Ditto Mike Leake. This is the core of the Cincinnati Reds, a team that is defined by its incredible starting pitching (No. 3 starters' ERA in MLB). If indeed they cannot afford to keep all of these players, how does one justify keeping an aging, statistically declining Brandon Phillips over the future of the rotation?
I don't think you can, which is why I don't think they will. Obviously, by not having Phillips, the Reds will lose arguably the best glove at the position. The ground BP covers is unrivaled, but again, he'll be 33 next season. How sustainable is this kind of performance?
I think this was Brandon Phillips' last year as a Cincinnati Red. It's not about his personality, even if it's a factor. It's about making the decisions necessary to field a team that can win in October. And when you consider the baggage he has, the money he commands from this small-market club and his downward-spiraling stats, combined with his age, expect Castellini and Jocketty to move Brandon Phillips before 2014.