What a Brandon Phillips Trade Would Mean for the New York Yankees

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What a Brandon Phillips Trade Would Mean for the New York Yankees
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The New York Yankees are preparing for life after Robinson Cano, or so it seems.

According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the Yankees have made contact with the Cincinnati Reds about second baseman Brandon Phillips:

Phillips is said to be available in the right trade, but word is, the initial price is way too steep. Of course, that's the way the Yankees look at Cano's $300 million asking price, as well.

Phillips batted .261 with 103 RBI for the Reds, but is on the market after a couple incidents—one where he complained in a Cincinnati magazine article about how ownership handled his negotiations and another where he went ballistic on a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter after the reporter, Trent Rosecrans, formerly of CBSSports.com, tweeted about Phillips' low on-base percentage.

Phillips still has four years and $50 million left on his current deal. Compared to what Cano is seeking, that would be a bargain. Then again, what would it cost the Yankees in terms of prospects?

But let's say the Yankees were able to pull off this trade. What kind of domino effect would it have on the rest of the offseason? What would the Yankees gain or lose replacing Cano with Phillips, and how would it affect Cano's value on the free-agent market?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

 

What the Yankees Would Gain/Lose

The most obvious thing the Yankees would lose, first and foremost, is prospects. There's no way that any team can acquire a four-time Gold Glover, and one that had 18 home runs and 103 RBI last year, without giving up something.

Outside of Gary Sanchez, no prospect is truly untouchable for the Yankees, so you could likely see the Reds ask for Mason Williams or Tyler Austin, along with a few pitching prospects.

The Yankees are likely going to want to keep both outfielders since Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano will all be free agents after next season. They're going to need some young bodies to place alongside Brett Gardner.

But if Phillips is the target, there's no way the Reds aren't getting at least Williams or Austin.

The Yankees would also be giving up on signing Cano, who kept the Yankees afloat this year, batting .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBI.

Here's how Phillips and Cano compare over the last two years:

Comparing Robinson Cano to Brandon Phillips
Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI XBH
Robinson Cano .313 .381 .533 60 201 150
Brandon Phillips .271 .315 .412 36 180 93

Baseball-Reference.com

Obviously Cano is better, but Phillips would come at a cheaper price, compared to what Cano wants.

Heyman reported in September that the Yankees balked at Cano's request of $300 million over 10 years:

The Yankees have said they do not want to repeat a contract of (Alex) Rodriguez's size. They obviously now view Rodriguez's contract as an error, though his career path took its own turn with the steroid revelations and two hip surgeries. Cano is healthy and has never been linked to anything untoward.

By trading for Phillips, the Yankees would be guaranteeing Cano won't be in pinstripes next year.

 

How Cano's Free-Agent Value Would Be Affected

Despite the multiple teams that are interested in Cano in free agency, very few would (or even could) make an offer in the neighborhood he is seeking.

The one team (outside of the Yankees) that could easily bankroll the deal, the Los Angeles Dodgers, doesn't seem like a candidate after signing Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero.

Heyman did mention that teams like the Rangers, Cubs, Nationals, Tigers, Mariners, Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Angels and Giants could also have interest in Cano:

In the case of many of these teams, there's a reason or two Cano may not be a perfect fit (mostly, it's the money). But with a player of this stature, teams have been known to make room.

The Rangers don't have much of an infield need since they have Ian Kinsler and Jurickson Profar for second base. The Tigers already have a high payroll for their market. While the Angels are expected to consider trades for second baseman Howie Kendrick, their bigger need would still be pitching.

The Orioles haven't spent for a top-tier free agent in years. The Nationals like Anthony Rendon, who'll presumably have to stay at second since Ryan Zimmerman bounced back to finish strong at third base. The Cubs seem to prefer even younger players for their major expenditures.

So, the market wouldn't look good for Cano to get the kind of money he is seeking.

This doesn't mean Cano wouldn't sign with one of those teams. But with a $300 million asking price, most teams won't come near that. That means Cano is going to have to come down on his asking price.

The bottom line is the Yankees trading for Phillips would be the worst thing for Cano. Without the Yankees, he's not getting anywhere close to the amount of money he wants.

 

What Else the Yankees Could Do

By trading for Phillips and not re-signing Cano, the Yankees would have a lot more cap space to make the necessary improvements on the free-agent market this offseason.

The main thing it would allow them to do is to get into a bidding war for free-agent catcher Brian McCann:

When you look at what McCann did last year compared to Yankees' catchers, it's really not a contest:

Comparing Brian McCann to Yankees' Catchers
Brian McCann Stat Yankees' Catchers
402 PA 566
.256 AVG .213
.336 OBP .289
.461 SLG .298
20 HR 8
57 RBI 43

Baseball-Reference.com

There really is no comparison as McCann is clearly the better choice for the Yankees, at least until Sanchez makes it through the minor league system.

By not signing Cano to a $30 million-a-year deal, the Yankees could easily afford to pay McCann around the $16-17 million Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects he'll get.

The Yankees could also make a serious run at Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka. While it's impossible to know what Tanaka's value is, he will be posted, and teams will have a chance to bid on him.

As Bleacher Report's Joe Giglio wrote in September, the posting system is a huge guessing game:

When it comes time for posting fees and free agent contracts, Tanaka is likely to receive less than Yu Darvish's total package, but, considering the dearth of free agent arms outside of Matt Garza, could be worth a total deal around what Anibal Sanchez received last offseason.

Of course, the nature of posting fees and the guessing game around which team will win the rights to offer Tanaka a deal will be just as intriguing as the actual contract he garners.

But given the Yankees' history of spending money, there's no doubt they'll put up a huge bid for Tanaka. By adding Tanaka, the Yankees will have another ace-type starter in their rotation to help take some of the pressure off CC Sabathia.

The Yankees could also look at bringing in a closer like Joe Nathan or Grant Balfour if they don't feel like David Robertson is the man for the job.

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There are so many avenues the Yankees could go if they traded for Phillips and let Cano walk.

 

The Bottom Line

While it is fun to think about what would happen if the Yankees decided to go another direction, the bottom line is there is no way they'll let him go to another team.

Cano won't get the $300-million contract he is seeking, but he'll get close to what Rodriguez got on his last 10-year deal.

After losing Mariano Rivera to retirement and the end of Derek Jeter's career coming up, the Yankees need a face of the franchise moving forward. Cano is that guy, and there is no way the Yankees would mess that up by trading for Phillips.

The Yankees may get a little disgruntled by having to shell out more money than they would like to keep Cano in the Bronx. But the bottom line is, they need Cano, and Cano needs them.

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