Earlier this season, over at Cincinnati Magazine, I wrote a piece that was headlined, “Brandon Phillips: An Acquired Appreciation.” It was an attempt for me to explain my conflicting emotions toward BP. There were some very good reasons that Phillips never became one of my favorite Reds. On the other hand:
But a resurgent 2015 is not really the reason my opinion about Phillips has softened. It’s because I love Reds history, and BP is a really significant player in the history of this franchise.
Did you know that only seven players in club history have accumulated more plate appearances in a Reds uniform than Brandon Phillips? This team has been around forever, and BP is 8th on the list, behind guys like Rose, Concepcion, Larkin, and Bench. Similarly, Phillips is eighth all-time in games played for Cincinnati. There’s something to be said for that longevity.
He’s been fairly productive, too, depending on how you look at the numbers. Brandon is ninth on the Reds all-time hits list, with 1,635 (I bet you can guess who’s number one). He’s ninth all-time in doubles (282), 13th in home runs (181), 11th in RBI (794), eighth in stolen bases (183).* Yes, these are counting numbers, and I’m not trying to say that BP has been a better player than a bunch of names behind him on these lists. But Phillips actually did those things, on the field, for your Cincinnati Redlegs. It makes him a significant figure in the history of the club.
As I’ve said many times, Brandon Phillips is a future Reds Hall of Famer, which is an important distinction to me. He’s either the second or third best second baseman in the long history of this club (probably third, but it’s arguable either way), and that’s impressive no matter how you look at it.
You’ll know this if you have spent much time around Redleg Nation over the last 11-plus years, but we have a soft spot here for this club’s history. So what Phillips has accomplished over his career is not lost on us.
But Father Time steals our days like a thief, and All-Star second basemen are not immune. The conversation now is, unfortunately, not about Phillips’ outstanding career but rather, about how and when the Reds are going to move on.
Recently, here at RN, Nick Carrington asked the question that Reds’ management must have been asking for the last few months: Should Brandon Phillips be a part-time player?
The Reds need to begin putting the pieces together for their next winning team and letting their fans fall in love with those players. Is Peraza the next player we fall for? He better be. The Reds were so desperate to get him that they shipped off what may have been their best trade chip this offseason to acquire him. Peraza probably isn’t a superstar, but he does profile as an everyday player at key defensive positions. Winning teams have those players.
By the end of the month, the Reds may have traded Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce for more young pieces. They should also make Brandon Phillips a part-time player. Those moves will close an exciting chapter in Reds’ baseball. But, it’s time to fall in love with the next generation of Reds’ players. We have lost our baseball heroes before, but we will find our footing again in young, exciting talent.
Peraza may or may not be a player we endear ourselves to, but now is the time to begin figuring that out, even at the expense of a Reds’ Hall of Famer.
The Reds were going to have to make this choice at some point. Phillips is now 35 years-old. That’s ancient for a big league middle infielder. So it occurred to me to take a look at Reds history, just to see whether these were uncharted waters, in terms of late-career second basemen. The answer: yes and no.
Since 1900, there have been only three Reds players who were the primary starting 2B in their age 35 season:
–Joe Morgan, 1979 (2.7 WAR)
–Lonny Frey, 1946 (2.3)
–Brandon Phillips, 2016 (-0.4)
Those names were interesting to me because of something I mentioned above: Morgan and Frey are the other two players in the conversation for best Reds second baseman of all time. (Okay, that’s not quite right. Joe Morgan is clearly the best Reds 2B ever. He may be the best in baseball history. Frey and Phillips are fighting over second place on this particular list.)
But anyway, I liked the symmetry. These are the guys who should be in the same conversation together.
But what does this tell us? Not a lot, honestly. Both Morgan and Frey were competent players at age 35. Phillips has been below replacement level.
What about the following season, at age 36? Well, the first thing I can tell you is that neither Morgan or Frey were with the Reds at age 36. That’s right, these are two team legends, both in the Reds Hall of Fame…and the Reds cut bait with each at the end of their age-35 season.
What did they each do after 35?
For his age-36 season, Morgan returned to Houston, where he played 141 games and hit .243/.367/.373 with 3.6 WAR. Two years later, at age 38, Morgan was even better, posting 5.1 WAR with the San Francisco Giants.
Comparing Phillips with Morgan isn’t instructive; Morgan is an all-time great. But it’s always fun to look at Joe Morgan’s career, so you’ll forgive me if I digress a little.
What about Lonny Frey? For those who don’t know much about Frey, he was a three-time All-Star who hit .265/.358/.365 in a seven-year career for the Reds. He was a valuable member of the 1939 National League pennant winners, and the 1940 World Series champions. From 1939 to 1943, which took him to his age-32 season, Frey posted WAR totals of 5.9, 5.9, 3.6, 5.2, and 4.5. Like Phillips, Frey was noted both for his bat and for his glove.
After that 1943 season, Frey missed two complete seasons while serving in World War II. He returned in 1946, at the age of 35, and hit .246/.368/.321, with 2.3 WAR in just 111 games. The following spring, the Reds sold Frey to the Cubs. He only appeared in 78 more games in his major league career.
Currently, Brandon Phillips is hitting .261/.299/.371. His wRC+ is a paltry 74. His wOBA is .293. His OPS+ is 78. He’s below replacement level according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR, and that continues a downward trend that we’ve seen every year since 2011, with the exception of last year’s outlier. There’s no rational reason to believe that Phillips is going to improve…unless you believe that Brandon Phillips is going to age like Joe Morgan.
None of this is intended as a criticism of BP’s fine career as a Cincinnati Red. But this is what happens. Players age, and the club is forced to move on at some point.
As far as I can tell, since the turn of the twentieth century, the Reds have never had a 36-year-old starting second baseman. Brandon Phillips will be 36 next year.
The time for making difficult choices has arrived.