Nationals Baseball: Phillips in a nutshell

Friday, December 18, 2015

Phillips in a nutshell

What I wrote on Wednesday still holds true. I would lean toward not getting Phillips, but it's a money thing.  Since it looks like it is happening - here are the biggest questions in increasing order of importance.

How much are the Nats going to pay him?

Brandon Phillips is set to make 13 million next year, 14 the year after. This is probably more than he'll be worth but it's not a terrible overpay. However, some people are saying that to get Phillips to agree to this deal the pot has to be sweetened. The Nats would have to pay him more or extend him.

I don't buy it. I don't even want to take it to one of those mid-aisle scanners to see how much it is.  The fact that he supposedly gave a hometown discount to the Reds, which spurs on a lot of the "have to give him more" talk, is his problem. It shouldn't be the Nats. In fact by "correcting" for the fact he'd have to move, he would essentially turn his contract into a huge bargain for the Reds and a bigger burden for the Nats. Why agree to that? Don't do it Nats. Open market today he's getting paid more than enough. Stick to those guns.

Who are the Nats giving up for him?

The talk is "several minor leaguers". Given that it's more than one I'm going to guess it doesn't include anyone you may care about. Of course that takes Giolito and Turner off the table, but also probably sweeps Cole, Difo, Fedde, Lopez, Voth and Robles into a napkin as well.  Best I see included might be Drew Ward (20 but stalling) or one of their myriad of future back-up catchers.

The truth is though, outside of Turner, none of these guys are needed for 2016. With Exodus Part 2 coming up after this year, I care about making a run now more than anything so if they do give up one of those latter 6, whatever. I can deal with it.

Does he make the Nats better?

Yes. We discussed this the other day. His consistency assumes a better offensive season than you can expect from Espinosa and he's a very good fielder so you don't lose as much in that swap as you would for other replacements (see Murphy, Daniel).  Anything that makes the team better is worthwhile. Technically you will lose a LHB when Turner comes up and replaces Espinosa (This is my expected Nats infield - Espinosa at SS until Turner gets called up mid-May) but Espinosa wasn't much of a lefty bat to begin with.

Also the secondary function of the trade - pushing Danny to the bench, gives the Nats a nice solid bench player.

How will he affect the Nats spending the rest of the offseason?

Ah - now here's the kicker. What is the Nats payroll? I've talked considerably that they may actually be around the amount they'd like to spend for the year already and they only have money to spend if they consider Papelbon and Storen gone with minimal salary absorbed. If that's the case then Phillips may eat a big chunk of the Nats payroll leaving them unable to say - deal for Cargo or even sign a Parra. If they don't put anything in for Papelbon/Storen then they might have a little money, say about 10 million, left to play with. If they expect to eat half of Papelbon/Storen then Phillips uses it all.

Phillips is a good player but only makes the Nats slightly better in 2016. If they Nats only have around 10-15 million to spend I think they could make a higher impact move.  So really whether the Phillips move is good or not doesn't come down to him, it comes down to the salary the Nats are paying and the payroll the Lerners are willing to shell out for 2016. If Phillips is essentially the last piece, because of some combination of his salary going up and the payroll going down, then it's a bad move. If he is just another cog and a closer or good OF bat is still on the horizon, then it's a good move. We can't know. But Rizzo must.


Froggy said...

Phillips in a nutshell would be better than Phillips in a Nats uniform.

Froggy said...

...unless Papelbon was part of the deal...

Chas R said...

Completely agree. I just don't see them stopping with Phillips though. They will have no leadoff hitter, a way overly heavy RH lineup, and a big question mark in CF. I just don't see Rizzo relying on MAT as the everyday CF and leadoff hitter in a year when they need to be in Win Now mode. Maybe I'm just HOPING more than anything else!

DCNatty said...

Agreed. They aint done yet.

Besides I don't think this is that bad. Phillips is a fiery guy. Would love to have him on the team. Maybe hell choke Papelbon. Either way...way better to overpay a guy for 2 yrs then overpay him for 4 (see Cubs, Zobrist). Everyone wanted Zobrist...but Phillips is the same age and has comparable, if not better, numbers.

DezoPenguin said...

Actually, the only recent year Phillips and Zobrist have been "similar" is 2015, at least if you're talking about fWAR (Phillips 2.6 in a "bounceback" season, Zobrist 2.1 in an injury-plagued "down year"). Otherwise, since Zobrist's breakout year in 2009 he's been consistently better (and the defensive metrics like both guys, so there's relatively little fluff). Phillips hasn't had a wRC+ over 100 since 2012; Zobrist's never had one lower than 100 since he hit the majors regularly in 2008. Whether Zobrist is going to be that good or not going forward (age-related decline and all that), he's been a consistently better player than Phillips on both sides for the ball for the last seven years.

I really don't like this acquisition for a lot of reasons (unless, as Froggy mentions, we're shipping out Papelbon--or Storen--to get him). Harper mentions one reason: why should we pay him *extra* to waive his no-trade protection? The only thing Phillips offers is consistency--he wasn't actually better than Danny last year, or in 2012, so basically this trade is either about "we don't trust Danny, Turner, and Difo to be any good" or it's about "veteran presence/Dusty's guys/similar intangible hoo-rah stuff." Okay, Phillips is a better defender than Yunel Escobar, but otherwise we basically had the same guy under contract, traded him away, and are now trading to bring his equivalent back.

Another reason I hate this is that Phillips is now guaranteed the 2B job. It doesn't matter what Danny does--Phillips has the job unless he gets injured, and he's not actually a better player. Danny will probably move to the bench if Turner comes up, which is a good thing for our depth, but it's just one more player added to Werth and Zim in the "we won't bench 'em even if they suck" risk group. Basically, it's replacing one risk with a different risk that costs a lot more money.

(I also have an abject dread of a lineup which begins with Taylor and Phillips batting 1-2 with .300 OBPs, but that's just my irrational fear of Dusty going all-in on being old-school.)

Bottom line: This really feels like an "Arizona East" move rather than anything that actually improves the team in any substantial way. It's also an extreme no-confidence vote in Difo, who now becomes the fourth middle infielder at best, which is disappointing. And that's all before we find out what we actually paid for the guy. If it turns out that we actually did give up any genuine prospect, then this moves from unhappy to disaster. (Unless we ditched Pap or Storen in this deal, in which case the addition by subtraction probably balances things out to "meh, I'm okay with it.")

JW said...

To me, the question is whether Phillips represents an upgrade over Desmond/Escobar, rather than an upgrade of Espinosa. If they extended Desmond or kept Escobar (never doing both), your infield was going to be Rendon, Zimm, Desmond/Escobar, Espinosa, Turner. They've decided against paying Desmond/keeping Escobar and look to be filling that spot with Phillips. Whose playing which position will differ, but it's essentially Phillips into Desmond/Escobar's spot. Whether he's an upgrade on them, I don't know.

When they traded Escobar, they had to get somebody. Difo isn't ready (might never be). Phillips gives you a few years to at least figure out what you are going to get from Espinosa, Turner and potentially Difo.

I agree with DCNatty too. Zobrist's real advantage over Phillips is that he can play multiple positions, where it isn't clear that Phillips can play more than 2B (maybe a little SS or 3rd?). Plus Zobrist being LH. But the 2 vs. 4 years is a huge difference (at least if the Nats don't stupidly extend Phillips -- offer a small bonus or a team option for Year 3, but don't extend).

We still haven't seen the cost of the trade though. If it's not insane, there's still hope that they can make a move for a CF that's an improvement over MAT.

JW said...

Correction, Zobrist being a competent switch hitter.

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blovy8 said...

Given that the Nats offered more money than the Cubs for Zobrist, I don't think it's fair to say he was an viable option, since he didn't want to play here. At best, they would have really curtailed their ability to pay for their other needs by overpaying him enough to come. The real competition for this Phillips trade seems to have been a possible deal with the Pirates for Neil Walker. That guy would have made more sense in that it's one year for less and he bats lefty. But maybe the Pirates just liked Niese more than Roark, since his track record is longer even though he's more expensive. Maybe the Nats didn't want to give up Roark, or maybe their offer wasn't ML-ready starting pitching, but the Mike Leake rumors sort of led me to think that way. It could be Melancon was in there and the Nats offered more, but couldn't swing a deal for Papelbon. It looks like this deal will be simpler and less painful if Phillips allows it.

Harper, the Nats have made significant offers to several free agents (without a hint of a Papelbon dump deal) for a lot more than what they're going to pay Phillips, so I do not think the payroll is an issue. I do think giving up the 1st round pick is an issue. Free agent Kendrick seems like a younger version of Phillips with a little less speed, but more versatility as he can play OF. If this falls through, they may have to pay the price on he or Murphy, and then you pretty much do have to just deal Difo. But at this point, Phillips doesn't completely block Difo, because he hasn't had a lot of upper minors experience yet. Probably 2017 is when he'd compete for a spot and you can't really predict the depth needs this far in advance. It's not like this is a very healthy team...

John C. said...

A couple of notes: yes, Phillips was only marginally better than Zobrist last year by fWAR (2.6 to 2.1). He stomped Zobrist flat on rWAR, though (3.5 to 1.2). For all intents and purposes they're the same age (Zobrist is one month older). Zobrist offers more pop, positional versatility and is a switch hitter. Phillips brings better defense and speed.

The WAR scores is why, using my rule of thumb of averaging the two sources of WAR and dividing by two, even discounting for aging I see Phillips as a likely 2-2.5 WAR player next year (I expect Zobrist to be better than that, but not by a lot). At that rate for $13M he's not much of a bargain but he's no burden, either. He might be a slight overpay in 2017. But then again he might not. It's really close.

Donald said...

I think Harper nailed the analysis. The Nats need someone to replace Escobar and Phillips is a decent option to do that. If he doesn't cost the Nats someone else for CF or the pen, then it's a good move. If trading for him means they can't fill other holes, it's probably a bad move. Of course this is all supposing the Nats are giving up someone we've never heard of. If the morning papers announce the trade with Giolitto going to Cincy, there'll be an uproar.

Good write up, Harper.

Zimmerman11 said...

No Zimmermann, no Desmond, no Span and no Fister

No Zobrist, no Heyward, no Phillips, no Frazier

And I heard them exclaim as they signed out of town,

This Rizzo guy's a no-talent assclown!

Zimmerman11 said...

Starting to look like Griffey, Bagwell, and Piazza are in, with 100, 90 and 80% of reported votes so far. Tim Raines is going to go down to the wire. Santa... please put an Expo in the HOF this year [smile emoticon]

Donald said...

Kudos to Zimmermam11's 12:57 post. You, sir, are winning!

Zimmerman11 said...

Donald... I think you meant "Wei Yin"ning.