2014 Reds / The Brandon Phillips Show

The Next Step: Trading Brandon Phillips

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.

152 thoughts on “The Next Step: Trading Brandon Phillips

  1. When has speculation replaced research and facts? I’m tired of reading Fay and Trent’s articles about what may happen or what they think, the bottom line is that they don’t know any more than any of us. So BP sent this site a nasty message, well boo ho. BP has a whale of a contract, but I’d rather get out of Ludwick’s deal than BPs. This team has gotten this far on defense and BP is a HUGE part of that. What we need is a consistent power hitter in LF and Ludwick isn’t the guy.

    • From Jesse Sanchez/mlb.com via twitter…

      Sources: #Dodgers agreed to terms on 4-yr, $28M deal with Cuban prospect Alexander Guerrero. Potential value is $32M.

      • @Shchi Cossack: Must be nice to have all that money to sign everyone in the world. I wonder if Puig’s emergence was a lodestone for Guerrero to go to LA.

        • @prjeter: Yeah, the international draft, international FA and salary cap really need some significant adjustments if competative balance is going to be maintained, but MLB and the Player’s Association have never really been concerned aboput competative balance. Small market and mid market teams are left with the crumbs from the table after the big boys are through devouring the prime rib and satisfying their glutonous appetite.

    • @stevechai:

      BP has a whale of a contract, but I’d rather get out of Ludwick’s deal than BPs.

      I don’t know many people who would disagree with this point, but I don’t think Ludwick’s contract ($13MM) can be traded for an old paint brush and a bucket of rusty nails. If WJ can manuever a trade for Ludwick, light the afterburners and go for it.

      • @Shchi Cossack: Why get rid of Ludwick now that he is healthy? We already ate the first year of the contract after his injury, so we might as well get something out of him in year two. When healthy, he has proven to be a significant contributor on offense. Don’t forget that everybody was just talking about how it was a healthy Ludwig carried our team a year ago. He only played in 38 games this year, so that is hardly enough evidence to justify writing him off. He was also one of the only players to show up in the postseason, which is where the Reds have choked in recent years.

  2. The Blue Jays are looking for 2B help. I wonder if they’d be interested in a BP for Rasmus and and pitching prospect. Their top 6 prospects are pitchers. I’m sure something could be worked out. It would provide P depth for us in the future, provide a stop-gap CF at a reasonable rate for next year while Hamilton is still learning the ropes. It would also allow us some financial flexibility going forward, as well as free up some cash for next year so we could go out and sign an impact FA.

    • @hotto4votto: The Jays are already losing Davis as a FA, so their OF depth is pretty shallow. I also think they really like Rasmus, even though he will be a FA in 2015 barring an extention this off season. I do like the Jays as a trading pertner for Phillips and I also like the thought of prying away one of their pitching prospects and possibly Barreto (SS). Maybe the Jays would also be interested in Heisey to help shore up their OF.

  3. This talk of wanting to dump BP is all bananas if you ask me. BP is one of the best defensive 2Bs that has EVER taken the field. His offensive numbers are also excellent for his position, and his hitting was very clutch leading up to his injury. He just made the friggin All Star team, so I am clearly not the only one to see this. He accounts for far more defensive DPs than he does offensive, as people like to blab about. How many runs do you think HIS defensive play alone saves a season? Don’t forget to include that when evaluating his production. People argue that the Cards and other teams don’t need the great defense from 2B, but this is because they are an offensive juggernaut who can afford it. The Reds CANNOT afford it with their line-up, and MUST continue to have excellent play in the field to be competitive. Those who argue we should trade him based on performance need to GET REAL! Those who argue he is a cancer need to point the finger to the entire apethic team. Just look at the numbers of many on the team compared to previous years and you will see how widespread this downward statistical trend is. What causes an entire team to spiral downward? A clear lack of leadership. Get the right guy in charge and you will see an entirely different team without the need to create an entirely different team. Just sayin…

  4. The reason this is the right time from a baseball sense is that he’s still (slightly) above average overall as a second baseman. Trade partners could perceive enough value in him that they’d be willing to take him.

    If the Reds simply gave away Phillips, they would “get in return” the $50 million they could spend on another player. So you can’t judge the trade by the players that the Reds get back in return. If the Reds expect the trade partner to relieve the Reds of all that salary, they can’t expect to get much in return in players, as Phillips is pretty close to at-value with his contract.

    In another year, when his skills likely decline further, he’ll be upside down. His remaining contract will be worth more than he is.

    The Reds might receive a similar player back in return – one that is owed quite a bit of money but is basically just worth it.

    • @Steve Mancuso: The Reds knew what they had when they awarded BP the contract, and they would be foolish to forget what they have now. Other teams would be willing to take him along with his big contract because he is far better than slightly above average overall as a 2B, which is also why this does not make sense from a baseball sense. Let’s begin with the obvious, which is fielding. Would you argue that there he is not the BEST defensive 2B in the league? If so, please explain because he makes plays that NOBODY else can make. On offense, he was also the BEST 2B in the league when it comes to RBIs with 101, while he was 6th in runs and 7th in hits. These are far better than average numbers offensively. BA is important, but more so for 2Bs who bat toward the beginning of the lineup, and BP delivered in many of the areas expected from the cleanup spot. But for argument’s sake, even if his overall batting was just slightly better than average, when this is combined with his truly exceptional fielding, you have an overall 2B who is one of the best in business.

      Are you arguing that BP’s numbers were THAT bad this year to justify dumping him so early in his new contract? I find that argument hard to believe.

  5. The number of teams that can afford a $50 million 2B with an opening are pretty slim: LAD, DET, SF, TOR, and BAL. Hunter or Bautista coming back could be interesting.

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