Prepare yourself for Brandon Phillips being traded this off-season. The writing is on the clubhouse wall. And in Cincinnati Magazine.
The on-field case for moving the Reds’ second baseman is fairly straightforward. Declining, though still above-average skills. $50 million better spent elsewhere.
When the trade takes place, rest assured that baseball factors will be the stated rationale. But anyone paying close attention the past few months will know that’s not the reason. In reality, off-field issues will have precipitated the end of Brandon Phillips’ career with the Reds. The same front office that wasted no time firing its manager won’t flinch in making the move.
The Imperative of Reshaping the Clubhouse
The spilt Champagne was still swirling down the drain in the Pirates’ winning locker room when Bob Castellini fired Dusty Baker.
In this case, listening is believing. The summary dismissal of the Reds’ skipper was designed to shake up the clubhouse in a search for effective leadership.
“Did you see the team playing with great passion, vigor and confidence? And as a team? I don’t think that anyone can say that positively. I think it was apparent that they were not playing up to their potential.”
That’s how Bob Castellini explained Baker’s firing.
“And as a team?”
That tiny, but so revealing, rhetorical question in the middle of Castellini’s statement is how you know. The Reds aren’t finished with major steps aimed at reshaping the clubhouse from the neck up. Firing the manager was just the first move. Next comes building player-based leadership in the locker room. Insiders like Jeff Brantley have pointed a knowing finger at the lack of accountability among the Reds’ players.
Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like natural candidates to lead the team. But by most accounts, their temperaments aren’t suited for getting in the faces of teammates when the situation calls for it. And who on the current roster has the stature to let the former MVP know that his blatant base running mistakes, forgotten out counts and occasional defensive indifference are unacceptable?
Leaders can emerge when given space. The Reds cleared the way in 2008 for the next generation of players like Votto, Bruce and Phillips when they sent Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. packing. The Red Sox went through a similar transition last off season. Player leadership provides the intensity and focus you’ll see in the Cardinals on Wednesday when they take the field in yet another World Series.
Brandon Phillips has veteran status, a strong personality, visions of grandeur and a happy-go-lucky approach. That combination worked as the Reds climbed into baseball’s elite. But moving from postseason contender to winning the World Series requires more serious leadership. It’s hard to imagine new players having effective space in the Reds’ locker room with BP still on the team. If the Reds are looking for change — and their breathtaking dismissal of Baker plainly proves they are — Phillips’ oversized and self-created role dictates that the club replace him.
Not that DatTradeBP really needs to be forced on anyone. The Reds brass has to be aching to do it.
Calling Bob Castellini a Liar
In April 2012, just five days after the Reds signed a 10-year, $225 million deal with Joey Votto, the club gave Phillips a six-year, $72.5 million contract, running through 2017. Most analysts viewed the Reds offer as surprising and generous.
In light of that reaction, Bob Castellini must have been stunned to read Phillips’ jaw-dropping interview with Cincinnati Magazine this summer. The second baseman called out the Reds’ CEO, accusing him of lying during the negotiation.
“For [Castellini] to sign somebody for $200 million, there must be a new vegetable or fruit coming out that we don’t know about. For him to do something like that and tell me they didn’t have any more money, that’s a lie,” Phillips said. “But what can I do? I just feel like it was a slap in my face.”
A few days later, Phillips kept digging, erasing any ambiguity. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans asked Phillips about his use of the L Word: “Phillips was asked if he thought he was lied to by Jocketty and Castellini. ‘Do I feel like they lied to me? If someone tells me they don’t have no money and you find $200 million somewhere, what does that sound like? You tell me.'”
Protip: Don’t call your employer a liar in public (twice).
A Profane Message to Reds’ Fans
A month later came Phillips’ infamous and ugly episode, caught on video, where he unleashed a profanity-filled and derogatory tirade toward Rosecrans. BP’s foul mouth went viral, producing a mountain of negative publicity for the Reds. Phillips did apologize privately to CTR. But he never expressed regret publicly for his language or inappropriate behavior.
Did anyone in the Reds organization express disapproval with his behavior? If so, it’s a warning BP didn’t heed.
In late September, as the Reds were getting swept into third place by the Pirates, Phillips sent a direct message to us at Redleg Nation. In 140 characters or less, he not only expressed disdain for our fan site, he let loose with more profanity.
[After deliberation, we chose not to reveal the tweet at the time because we didn’t want to risk causing a distraction. Publishing the actual text would also violate our site guidelines on profanity.]
Phillips’ disparagement of one of the Reds’ largest fan sites is ironic. Just a couple years ago, in the run up to the negotiation over his extension, the Reds’ second baseman launched a calculated, self-promotional charm offensive toward Reds’ fans. He parlayed that newly constructed goodwill into $72.5 million.
In the Cincinnati Magazine interview, Phillips connected his popularity to the contract: “Number one, the fans love me here. … [The team] invested a lot of money in me to go out there and do my job, and to keep representing the Reds in a positive way,” he says. “I feel like that’s the only reason I got that deal—if they didn’t feel I was important to the city, then I wouldn’t still be here.”
When you take the ‘charm’ out of the charm offensive, it just leaves offensive. Rich from our ticket money and offensive.
The Inevitable Conclusion
Trading Brandon Phillips will surely divide Reds fans. But given all that’s transpired the past few months, it would truly be shocking if Brandon Phillips lines up at second base for the home team in Cincinnati on Opening Day 2014.
From a GM’s perspective, there are valid baseball and clubhouse reasons to do it. John Fay speculated this week that the Reds’ aggressive inquiry on Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero was an indication they are seeking alternatives at second base. That’s Walt Jocketty looking to take a large step in the team’s pursuit of accountability and leadership.
Beyond the clubhouse needs are the insults to the owner/CEO and the vulgar behavior toward the press and now the fans. The Reds organization works hard at, and is largely successful in, creating a classy, fan and family-friendly context for the team. The Castellini family won’t put up with a player that is no longer representing the Reds in a positive way.
As Dusty Baker found out, when Castellini and Jocketty reach the same conclusion, even for different reasons, they don’t fool around.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.