Would a Trade for Brandon Phillips be Worth the Cost?

Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Ned Yost was interviewed by ESPN baseball analyst Jim Bowden on Tuesday, and he had a couple of interesting things to say. First, he said the Royals’ main priorities this winter are to improve the starting rotation and second base. Bob Dutton has reported that pitching would be the team’s primary goal of the offseason as well, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. However, Yost also mentioned that he and Dayton Moore had discussions about going after several players, namely Ervin Santana, Carlos Beltran, and Brandon Phillips.

As David mentions here, Phillips could be an interesting target for the Royals. The Reds’ second baseman hit 18 home runs and collected 103 RBI in his 2013 campaign. He also was awarded his 4th Gold Glove and is under contract for the next 4 seasons. Acquiring him seems like a no brainer, right?

In the words of Billy Butler, just before his race with Jarrod Dyson: “Not so fast.”

You see, the funny thing about raw counting stats is that they can be incredibly deceiving. While 18 home runs for a second baseman is very good, you have to remember that the Reds’ home park is a bandbox. Playing in Kauffman Stadium would likely take away a few of those home runs. Additionally, there is a reason I almost never mention RBI in this space, and that is because it doesn’t tell you much of anything about a player. Phillips was hitting behind Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, who had 2 of the 4 highest OBPs in baseball in 2013. It doesn’t take a superstar hitter to drive in a lot of runs when his teammates are on base over half the time he steps in the box.

Phillips posted a wRC+ of 91 this past year. That is 9% below the league average. For reference, Jarrod Dyson had a wRC+ of 90.

Granted, having a second baseman who’s only 9% below average offensively would still be a huge step up from what the Royals got in 2013, but at what cost?

Phillips is under contract for the next 4 seasons for a total of $50 million. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a ton of money for a guy who could potentially be a 2.5-3 WAR player if his offense bounces back. However, Phillips is entering his age 33 season, so a sudden offensive improvement shouldn’t be expected. The Royals would also be paying him $14 million when he’s 36 years old, and his skills may already be deteriorating. We saw a fairly significant dropoff in his contact percentage this past year when compared to previous years, so if those offensive skills go, the Royals could be on the hook for a lot of money owed to an all-glove, no-hit middle infielder. Not an ideal situation for a small market team with a limited budget.

Of course, the Reds could offer to pick up some of his salary as a part of the trade. The problem with that, though, is they would likely expect higher quality prospects in exchange. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: I’m terrible at hypothetical trades, so I won’t even try with this one. But, I would assume the Reds want to get back several impact prospects for Phillips, even if they don’t send extra cash in the deal. I would not feel comfortable surrendering two or three top 10-15 prospects for a player who may not be even an average hitter for any of the next 4 years.

When you factor in the cost of acquiring Phillips, in both dollars and prospects, it’s tough to see how a trade would make sense for the Royals. The money they would have to pay him could be better spent finding alternatives for second base, improving the rotation, or attempting to extend some of the young talent already on the roster. It is possible Phillips improves the team by a win or two in 2014, but the long term cost is far too steep. Phillips just isn’t worth it.

Topics: Brandon Phillips, Kansas City Royals

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  • jimfetterolf

    Absolutely agree. Good piece.

  • Eric Akers

    He apparently has won the “The 2013 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award” from fan graphs which is a measure of RBI / wRC.

  • hemroid

    I think he fits well in Cincinnati, lets keep looking elsewhere. I am not sure we can afford to trade away too many of our “hopefuls” for a player that is on the probable “down slide” of an otherwise good career.

  • DownUnderFan

    Phillips might have been below average in wRC+ but his WPA and RE24 numbers were well above average. Which tells me he does hit in critical situations.

    However, I agree with your. Because of his salary and age, he is too expensive for the Royals. Probably worth a discussion with the Reds, but I don’t put any top prospects on the table like Zimmer, Mondesi or Bonifacio (the younger).

  • Dave Lowe

    How many top prospects did it take to get Santana from the Angels last year, who was owed $13M? None. The Royals can get this done by trading a bullpen arms, a decent minor league starting pitcher prospect, and a minor league flyer. If the Royals assume a $50M contract, the Reds can’t expect back a bunch of league minimum contract top prospects.