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Would a Trade for Brandon Phillips be Worth the Cost?

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.

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