The Cincinnati Reds’ rebuild is out of the batter’s box and finally in full stride. Brandon Phillips stands at the keystone, blocking the way. Or not.
Alternative Facts are a thing now, yeah? so let’s just roll with it. There’s an alternative fact pinging around the yet-to-be power-washed corners of the Interwebs that Brandon Phillips is not only the 2017 starting second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, but that he will remain there like an intestinal blockage, painfully backing up the Reds rebuild plans for who knows how long, turning a Red front office Pepto-pink.
This sort of speculation is confounding given the circumstances at play. Once upon a time, there was a legitimate concern regarding the Reds’ commitment to the rebuild. We’re deep downriver now, yet still a far piece from the churning falls of playoff contention. Nope. The waters are calm at the moment, even as some folks think a storm is a-brewin on the rebuild river.
When you stop and think about it for a moment, the idea that the Reds front office would allow a player who has no future with the next good—no, dammit—great Reds team and hold up the rebuild is well, ridiculous. Consider just how badly the Reds wanted Jose Peraza. They didn’t pursue him as much as they stalked him. They headed down one avenue in an effort to trade for the young Venezuelan; and when that didn’t work, they high-tailed it down another. Add to that his performance in the second half of 2016, plus Dick Williams’ commitment to putting his own stamp on the club—and it’s hard to see a scenario where Peraza doesn’t log substantial minutes in the infield, some of them at second base. Because while Peraza’s ideally a shortstop, Zack Cozart still has value, while Phillips’ value has diminished as his glove has gotten smaller and his power has waned. Peraza can also play multiple positions—think Ben Zobrist-lite—allowing the Reds to buy time to showcase Cozart.
The more pressing issue is Dilson Herrera, who plays second base and only second base. Herrera was once the Mets heir apparent at second, before panic over run production led them to acquire Jay Bruce and sweeten the deal with Herrera in place of Brandon Nimmo when a medical issue with one of the lesser minor league players in the deal forced their hand.
If Herrera is a major league second baseman, as the Mets once believed, the Reds need to get him ready. That doesn’t mean that people need to set their hair on fire if Brandon starts on Opening Day, only that BP will need to sit next to Jim Day much more than he’s accustomed to as the season floats on.
Something to keep in mind: rebuilding teams can’t and shouldn’t concern themselves too much with logjams of talent at various positions. Prospects fail. Players get hurt. The mistake is in not having a Plan B; or sometimes even a Plan C. And the Reds have a Plan B. Plan B goes by the name of Eugenio Suarez.
Despite the plaintive wails of Meatloaf, objects in the rearview mirror are most certainly closer than they appear—and the object in Suarez’s rearview mirror is Nick Senzel; or as you know him: Nick Senzel: Third Baseman of the Rebuilt and Shiny Future. Suarez has to play somewhere. He’s too good to be a utility infielder and too young to assume he’s hit his ceiling as a player. If new Red Herrera turns out to be a Red Herring, Eugenio slides into second nicely. Amirite?
Brandon Phillips knows all this. Believe it. The new GM has had conversations with him. Believe that, too. When it comes to trades and lineup construction, BP has held many of the cards up to now. But not all of them.
The home team attempted to divest themselves of the mercurial Phillips in a deal with the Yankees before the second baseman used his limited no-trade rights to block the deal back in 2013. Since then, the Reds have thrice been close to moving BP, once to a contender (Washington), once to a non-contender (Arizona) and finally to his hometown (Atlanta), only to be rebuked each time by Phillips, who now has full 10-5 rights and seems happy to play out the final year of his contract on a rebuilding team.
. . .
If you want to know when and where the Good Ship Brandon ran aground, the WHEN was the summer of 2013; the WHERE was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, he took a pitch off the wrist, crippling his season. A few weeks after that, perhaps in the wake of considerable frustration, he famously went after beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans in ugly fashion; all of it caught on video. He let his pride and Joey Votto’s contract get the best of him, calling out the owner in Cincinnati Magazine:
“To this day, I’m still hurt. Well, I don’t wanna say hurt. I’ll say scarred. I’m still scarred. It just sucks that it happened,” he says. “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. But what can I do? I just feel like it was a slap in my face.”
After that valentine from Phillips, you just know owner Bob Castellini would love to finally shed himself of the headache and at least some of the money. The Reds Caravan has been full of questions. Every fan wants to hear him or Dick Williams say Phillips’ time with the Reds has passed. But it would be foolish for the Reds front office to come out and say publicly they are doing everything they can to trade Phillips, or even Cozart for that matter—even as they are most certainly doing just that. It would be borderline crazy to announce that the Gold Glove second baseman is now DatDone.
“I haven’t really thought about it. I just know I have another year here,” he said. “I’ll just be waiting on the what the Reds are going to do and what other teams are going to do. Other than that, I play for the Reds and I’m happy. I can’t wait to finish my career or finish my contract out here.”
There he stands, the smile river wide and the ego mountain high. There is little doubt BP thinks he still has more baseball inside him. He could cause a ruckus, sure, but you have to believe if he wants another contract somewhere else, being a good citizen in his remaining days in Cincinnati works to his benefit.
DatDude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there. DatDude. Takin ‘er easy for all us sinners. Takin’ selfies with the Debbies and the Bosses. Proving the haters all wrong while winning them over in one smooth behind-the-back move. Shoot. I hope he makes the playoffs with his new team if that’s how it all works out.
He’s been good to the fans. Good to the city. He’s sure given us all some show in the middle of the infield all these years. Then again, maybe he goes out in a blaze of anger and recriminations.
The suspense is terrible… I hope it’ll last.