COMMENTARY | The speculation that the Cincinnati Reds are actively shopping All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips will continue to swirl despite the latest development that the Reds are not contenders for Cuban middle infielder Alexander Guerrero.
With four years and $50 million left on his contract ending after the 2017 season, Phillips will appeal to many teams for both his offensive production (103 RBIs in 2013) and his Gold Glove defense. His age (32) may cause pause for some teams, but Phillips is still close enough to his prime that some of his substandard 2013 numbers (.261 batting average and a .310 on-base percentage that was the lowest of his eight-year Reds' career) won't negate his trade appeal.
But why would the Reds want to trade Phillips?
If the Reds decide to win the Shin-Soo Choo free-agent sweepstakes, the payroll state of the team would be unparalleled (over $120 million for 2014). Trading Phillips would provide the most realistic payroll relief available to offset the exorbitant price for Choo, which is likely to approach the $18-million-per-year average recently received by San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence.
Signing Choo and trading Phillips would allow the Reds to temporarily return Hamilton to the middle infield as a replacement for Phillips. Hamilton played second in rookie ball in 2010 before switching to shortstop full time in 2011 and 2012. Re-positioning Hamilton at 2B in 2014 would allow Choo to play center for one more year before shifting to left once Ryan Ludwick is bought out of his 2015 option and Hamilton could then return to center.
Changing of the Guard
The firing of manager Dusty Baker after the Reds' wild-card loss was a shot across the bow by the front office and ownership of the Reds. As much as Phillips has been a stalwart on the field and at the plate for the Reds, his past contribution won't outweigh the need for change if that change is deemed to improve the club's chances of advancing deeper into the postseason.
A makeover may be needed more than anything else for the Reds to shake the playoff problems experienced three of the past four years. No Baker and no Phillips in the clubhouse could clear the air for the rest of the team and help to refocus the Reds for a much fresher start in 2014.
Phillips also drew unwanted attention to the team in 2013 for his expletive-ridden attack on a reporter and his comments in a magazine about how his $72.5-million contract extension was a slap in the face.
Trade Return for Phillips
Dumping Phillips' contract would be the top priority for the Reds if he is traded as part of a plan to sign Choo, but Phillips should still command a promising prospect or two in return.
The Baltimore Orioles are a fitting partner for the Reds, given the free-agent status of 2B Brian Roberts and the injury status of 3B Manny Machado. The Orioles may opt to roll the dice with prospect Jonathan Schoop at second from the start of the season, but with the productive bat of Machado missing, the Orioles would be wiser to trade for a proven producer like Phillips.
Trading Phillips would be bittersweet for Reds Country given the great play and fan appreciation Phillips has shown over the years. But if it meant that the on-base machine Choo could be a part of the Reds' long-term future, then it's a trade that would be understood.
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 2013 Reds' season here.
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