COMMENTARY | Brandon Phillips is a 32 year old second baseman who has seen his offensive production decline right in line with what you would expect from somebody his age. He is a fantastic defensive second baseman, but defense relies on speed and reflexes, which will also decline as Phillips gets older. In short, he is a very talented but aging second basemen locked in to the type of multi-year contract that teams end up regretting over the final two or three years.
But to listen to the excited reaction to a recent rumor that the Braves are interested in acquiring Phillips from the Cincinnati Reds, you'd think he was the second coming of Rogers Hornsby. I would advise Braves fans to reign in the excitement, because acquiring Phillips could very well be a disaster.
Again, this is not necessarily a jab at Phillips as a player. He's one of the very best second baseman around. But this is an indictment on both how major league players decline in performance right around Phillips age, and also a caution in how much the Reds would demand in return.
For Braves fans, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a cautionary example of an aging second baseman. Once upon a time the Braves acquired a 31 year old, power hitting second baseman who was coming off of a season with 105 RBIs and 33 home runs. They proceeded to extend his contract to pay out approximately 13 million a year for five years. The Braves are now trying as hard as they can to get from underneath the handcuffing contract of Dan Uggla.
And if the rumors hold true, they hope to replace Uggla with... a 32 year old second baseman coming off of a season with 18 home runs and 100 RBIs, who is due to make just over 12 million a year for the next four years. Essentially, the move for the Braves would be to acquire a longer, similarly priced contract for better defense and better, yet declining, offensive production.
And unfortunately, there's no chance that a Phillips deal would be a straight up swap of second basemen. Uggla was one of the worst players in the league last year, though he was likely the victim of some bad luck (based on his outrageously low .225 batting average on balls in play) and played in a tough home park for home run hitters. The Reds would be reasonable in demanding a top prospect or two from Atlanta.
This, for me, is where the benefit of the potential trade falls apart. The Braves rely heavily on the production of their homegrown players. Young players are cheap, and the Braves have done an incredible job of developing cheap potential into cheap production. If acquiring Phillips requires parting with a stud like Julio Teheran, or even a "what-if" player like J.R. Graham or Christian Betancourt, than the deal would be a huge mistake for the Braves.
Patrick Richardson is a longtime follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
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