April 19, 2021

Washington Nationals Offseason: Trade in place for Brandon Phillips

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals have a trade in place with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire right-handed hitting 2B Brandon Phillips, in exchange for a package of minor leaguers, at least according to ESPN’s Jim Bowden.

Those minor league names have yet to be divulged at the time of this post, but by the time you read this, the deal might very well be consummated. According to Phillips’ confirmed Twitter account:

So he’s in D.C. already.

There are (at least, at 10:31 Pacific Time) a lot of factors still in play. Phillips made a long-term commitment to Cincinnati, just bought a house and had settled down there. He took less money to re-sign there a couple of seasons ago and since he has full 5/10 rights (10 years in the bigs, five with one club), he has the right to refuse the deal and stay with Cincy.

The Reds are in a total rebuild, having traded away Todd Frazier, tried to trade Aroldis Chapman, and have listened to offers on everyone, including Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.

Of course, if the Reds make a financial obligation to Phillips in lieu of the contract both parties signed, Phillips could very well go along with this and reunite with manager Dusty Baker, for whom he played with the Reds.

At least, we know Phillips calls Baker “Papa Pope,” so we’re all winners already out of all of this.

Of course, Phillips might be clowning all of us with his “Scandal” reference.

Baseball-wise, Phillips is still moderately productive with the bat, hitting .294/.328/.395 last season in 623 plate appearances with Cincinnati, with 12 home runs and 23 (out of 26) stolen bases. Baker will probably slot him in the leadoff spot for the now-departed Denard Span and just forget about it, OBP be damned.

Phillips has won four Gold Gloves in his career, the latest in 2013. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he’s slowing down there as well. But he was a 3.5 WAR player last season, nothing any of the Nats current infielders can say.

Here’s the downside: Phillips is owed $13M next season and $14M in 2017. That’s expensive for a guy that derives all of his value in generating singles. He had 12 homers, sure. But he also only had 19 doubles and two triples, so that .294 average over 148 games was built one base at a time for the most part.

The Nats really wanted a left-handed bat, either at second base of the outfield. At $25M for the next two seasons, it’s hard to see the Nats making another significant move this offseason.

That leaves Michael Taylor as a full-timer, with no credible backup outfielder for when Jayson Werth inevitably goes on the D.L. It leaves either Danny Espinosa or Trea Turner in the starting lineup, playing every day. If Espinosa starts at short, you’d have to presume Turner goes back to the minors for seasoning, which means the Nats then need a reliable middle infielder on the bench. And it also assumes that Tanner Roark and Joe Ross open the season as the No. 4 & 5 guys in the rotation.

Lots of assumptions. It seems the Nats are trying to jam a square peg in a round hole in their acquisition of Phillips. He’s a useful player, but is he the useful player the Nats really need. And we have to wonder how much Baker’s relationship with Phillips plays into all this.

And we haven’t even gotten into who the Nats surrendered for the right to acquire Phillips. This move would seem sketchy if it were a free agent signing. The fact the Nats are giving up assets to acquire the square peg adds another level to this.


About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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