COMMENTARY | Second baseman Brandon Phillips is poised to have a big year in 2014 after coming off a career high in RBIs and winning his fourth Gold Glove in 2013.
The bigger question about his upcoming season is whether or not he'll play for the Reds. Surrounded by trade rumors all offseason, Phillips will still have teams besides the Reds interested in his services, but if the Reds are to plate their best team, it will include Phillips in their lineup.
Here are five reasons why Phillips will thrive in 2014:
Prove His Worth
Part of the reason why the Reds would even consider trading Phillips is his contract and his comments about his contract, which he considered a slap in the face by Reds ownership. The contract at issue guarantees Phillips $50 million over the next four years.
Whether Phillips plays his contract out with the Reds or finds a team with deeper pockets like the New York Yankees willing to add millions of dollars more to it as a trade condition, Phillips will be determined to prove his worth where it ultimately counts -- in the field and at the plate.
Expect Phillips to take any doubt about whether or not he's worth the money personally and show the baseball world he's worth every dollar and then some.
Phillips has shown during his eight-year career with the Reds that he doesn't back down from anyone, whether it's Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, or even the owner of the Reds, Bob Castellini.
This offseason full of swirling trade rumors should only make Phillips stronger and perhaps even more fearless. And if he does remain with the Reds, all of the potential tension between him and the Reds' front office is likely to make the whole team stronger and more determined to finish the work the core players of the team started several years ago.
Renewed Love for the Game
Regardless of the occasionally controversial comments that Phillips makes off the field, there's no doubt that Phillips loves playing the game. He's always smiling and always playing hard in the field and focused at the plate.
The business of the game may have overtaken his love for the game during this offseason, but as soon as spring training arrives and Phillips hits the diamond again, his love for the game will undoubtedly assume its natural place for him.
And Phillips has proven his love for the game year in and year out by averaging 150 games a year since he joined the Reds in 2006.
Batting Order Versatility
Phillips is a willing hitter wherever he is asked to hit in the batting order, including leadoff where he has hit .265 with a .325 on-base percentage in 149 games started for the Reds. His numbers hitting leadoff through cleanup mirror his career 162-game averages (.271/.320 with a .749 on-base plus slugging percentage).
But Phillips has hit cleanup more than twice as much (2,575 plate appearances) as he has hit in any other spot in the batting order. His batting average (.279) and on-base percentage (.327) at cleanup are his highest among batting order slots leadoff through cleanup.
Phillips drove in 96 of his career-best 103 RBIs batting cleanup in 2013. While Phillips may lack the home run power typically associated with a cleanup hitter (a 162-game average of just 20 HRs), his ability to put the ball in play has enabled him to thrive as a cleanup hitter during his career with the Reds.
Among major league second baseman, Phillips had the second-most RBIs in 2013, trailing only Robinson Cano (107).
The primary reason why Phillips will be successful wherever he bats in the order is that he is a contact hitter with a no-stride swing. During his eight years as the Reds' starting second baseman, Phillips has struck out more than 100 times just once (in 2007). His ability to put the bat on the ball makes Phillips an ideal run producer, even if he doesn't hit for home run power or want to walk instead of swing.
The price of admission to Reds' games has often been worth it just for the incredible play of Phillips in the field. He is in all likelihood the greatest second baseman to ever play the game when it comes to making amazing plays that the rest of the second basemen in baseball could only dream about.
Phillips may slow down at some point in the field, but he'll turn just 33 years old in the upcoming summer and has shown no signs of losing his luster.
So regardless of the team that employs him or his spot in the batting order, Phillips will embrace the challenge ahead of him with the same dedication and focus he has every year he has played, only this time around a little extra edge may be there for him to excel even more than he has in the past.
And the results may not be another 30-30 season in terms of homers and stolen bases, but his 2014 season could very well be his best overall that he's produced during his career.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the Reds here.
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