The Reds Strike Again: The Phillips Extension

It has been a good week to be a second baseman. On the heels of Ian Kinsler‘s big extension with the Rangers, Brandon Phillips received a roughly similar six-year, $72.5 million deal from the Cincinnati Reds. Unlike Kinsler’s five-year contract, which begins after this season, Phillips’ new contract begins this year. Does this make sense for the team given the Reds current situation?

Phillips had perhaps the best season of his career in 2011. Given that he was going to turn 31 in June and was thus looking at his last chance at a big payday, he was in no mood to offer the Reds a hometown discount during the off-season. What sort of deal did Phillips and the Reds strike? Taking into account a typical rate of decline for a veteran as well as an average annual increase in the price of a win, one estimate would be that the Reds are paying Phillips as if he is currently somewhere in between a three- and four-win player.

Phillips is a good, if not great, hitter compared to average. But that is more than enough for a second baseman. He does not do any one thing exceptionally well except avoid strikeouts. His walk rate is below average, but his contact skills and above-average power compensate for his relative lack of patience. Phillips .322 BABIP in 2011 was a career high, but was not exceptionally high by his own past performance or league standards in general. Given past performance and his age, both ZiPS and Steamer see Phillips’ true talent on offense as being closer to his 2009 and 2010 levels than 2011, projecting a 2012 wOBA of .333 (ZiPS) and .336 (Steamer). After adjusting for the Reds’ home park, that is worth about 8 runs above average over 700 plate appearances — very good for a middle infielder.

Fielding might be Phillips primary calling card, but, as always with this issue, it is difficult to say how good he is. He has won several Gold Gloves, but, well… Over the last few seasons, Advanced fielding metrics see Phillips as either a bit (DRS) or substantially (UZR) above average, and the Fans Scouting Report loves him even more. All that being said, we know that there is a great deal of uncertainty with measuring a player’s contributions with the glove, so we should be careful. Let’s say for a rough range of possibilities that Phillips is somewhere between average and ten runs above per season in the field.

Phillips seems to have a lot of day-to-day dings and scratches on his record, but he has not been on the disabled list since 2008, and consistently plays around 150 games a season, so injuries are not a big problem for him. He is also a good baserunner, so we’ll give him another run for that.

Overall, we have +8 offense, +2.5 positional adjustment, 0 to +10 runs fielding, +1 baserunning, +20 NL replacement level and 90% playing time. All together that gives us a range between around three to four wins above replacement for an estimate of Phillips’ current true talent. In other words, just about we would expect given the projected value of his contract.

This sort of number crunching is just the first step in evaluating a contract. One concern with giving a “market value” deal like this to Phillips is that is sort of assumes he will be able to stick at second base. While it is fairly safe to say he is at least fine there now, age and injuries can change that evaluation fairly quickly. For former second basemen, the next stop is usually left field. While Phillips’ bat is currently good for a second baseman, it would be borderline as a left fielder, and down the road it probably would not play there. Phillips’ lack of walks might also mean that even a small loss of bat speed due to age could seriously hurt his offensive value, as his secondary skills are not good enough to pick up the slack.

However, there is risk in every contract, and there is more more to be said about the Reds’ situation. They are not getting a discount on Phillips, that is true. On the other hand, they have made big investments in terms of both money (the mammoth extension for Joey Votto) and talent (the players traded for Mat Latos) with the goal of contending over the next few years. To skimp on Phillips after all of that would be a bit questionable. These sorts of “fair deals” can seem foolhardy down the road, but given that the Reds have decided to go “all in,” they might as well go “all in.” Whether it looks like a series of genius moves or foolhardy bravado will be a matter for future historians.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


33 Responses to “The Reds Strike Again: The Phillips Extension”

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  1. Cardsfan says:

    It’s the Reds. Just because the contract is in line with market rates for free agents doesn’t mean they should lock themselves into paying retail for years and years of players. The Reds are an organization that has to work extra hard to avoid paying the going rate for talent.

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    • LookingInTheMirror says:

      i’m curious as to what you think constitutes market rate. the Reds offered Votto market rate, the Cards failed to offer Pujols market rate.

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      • Cardsfan says:

        $4.5 million or so per win? Votto and Pujols did get roughly market rate deals if you use the standard aging curve and estimate salary inflation at 10% a year. The question is, should a small market team lock itself into paying full price for 10+ years?

        If a team goes out and signs, say, Carlos Pena, to a 1/10M it’s generally seen as a “taking your medicine” kind of a move – ie the organization failed to develop a cost controlled first baseman so it has to pay full price. Here the Reds are agreeing to do that all over the place and for many, many years down the road.

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      • stan says:

        How do you figure the Cards didn’t offer Pujols market rate? They offered him $22M a year for 10 years, which is what he’d be worth if he didn’t decline at all from here on out. (a vain hope of course). Arguments like these just drive me nuts. Its like people just refuse to look at his performance the last two years and then assume that he’s still an elite player. Please take a peak at his player page before making an argument. Scroll down to the bottom at the value setting and then tell me the Cardinals didn’t pay market value.

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  2. stan says:

    Insane deal for a team in the Cincy market. Unless they want to jack their payroll up to $110M annually they won’t have any money left for any pitching, not even to re-sign Cueto and Latos.

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    • Craftcj says:

      That’s exactly what they plan on doing. As John Fay has reported, “Castellini plans to move the payroll toward $100 million over the next couple of years” because the Reds expect “get a new local deal with Fox Sports Ohio before the current one expires in 2016.”

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      • stan says:

        “toward $100M” is not the same as $110M. Heck, its not even a guarantee of $90M.

        Reds fans everywhere are placing a lot of faith in this new local TV deal too. I realize their ratings are high, but in that teeny market how much could they possibly get? Its not like they’d have leverage to ask for the moon.

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      • the hottest stove says:

        well obviously EVERYONE must be watching on television….because no one is showing up to Great American. They are drawing about 18k on average through the first week…

        I’m sure that’s encouraging for the ownership group knowing that they have a competitive team and people still won’t show up, as they are racking up the long-term contracts…

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      • RiverRat13 says:

        18k through the first week? The Reds averaged around 28,500 for the first week.

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  3. eastsider says:

    You say he’s a good baserunner and I know there are more ways to measure this than just SB%, but his last two years have been pretty bad – 57% and 61% – with declining attempts as a result.

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    • RMR says:

      Despite that, BP has him at an average of +5 runs per season from 2009 to 2011. Taking those extra bases can add up pretty quickly.

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  4. gweedoh565 says:

    Matt, can you provide some examples of a 2B that was moved to LF late in their career? Definitely lower in the defensive spectrum, but I can’t think of an example.

    Also, does “market value” under-represent actual value? According to his player page, Phillips has been worth an average of $19 million per year from 2007-2011, and he has just been signed for an AAV of $12 million per year. That makes this deal look pretty good for the Reds, even keeping in mind expected age regression in performance.

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    • stan says:

      Todd Walker?

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    • nittany87 says:

      Kelly Johnson did for a bit

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    • Franco says:

      Soriano? Although I don’t think it’s as common as it was implied in the article.

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      • DL80 says:

        Maybe not extremely common, but I looked at the top 2B by WAR since 1980 and saw several that moved to LF at the very end of their careers: Biggio, Knoblauch, Soriano, Deshields, Sax. Most didn’t play much LF though (perhaps due to a dropoff in offense). Not many second basemen who played a lot of second, moved to LF and succeeded there (Soriano, sort of).

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  5. Frank says:

    These moves are excellent for the purpose of convincing the market that this team is serious and worth going to see in the park. What a lot of people forget when they talk about the Cincinnati market, or any market, is that they are not drawing to their potential. Drumming up excitement and goodwill with fans will allow their payroll to expand considerably.

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    • Sharks2431 says:

      Not that the fans have shown any interest as of yet. I’m not sure about today, but their first 2 games against the Cardinals had very low attendance for a team expected to compete this year.

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    • Cardsfan says:

      Have you seen the crowd at GABP for the three game series that is wrapping up today against their arch-rival, the hated Cardinals? They won’t touch 50,000 combined for the series. Is this number going to increase when Votto and Phillips are old?

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  6. Jonathan says:

    What about Billy Hamilton? Shouldn’t he be ready before this deal is over for Brandon? Billy Hamilton looks to be a better prospect than Brandon ever was; however, many prospects never pan out and the Reds know a lot about that.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I don’t think Billy Hamilton is a better prospect than Phillips was, and if he became as valuable a player as Phillips is right now the Reds would be very pleasantly surprised. He’s really fast. Other than that, he’s not much of an offensive player. He doesn’t walk much, has very little power (30 extra base hits, only 3 homers in 135 games last year), and doesn’t even have particularly great contact rates. In addition, the only way he affects Phillips is if he moves to second, or forces Cozart to move to second.

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  7. jim says:

    $300 million for phillips and votto’s old years? yeah, no thanks

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  8. Monroe says:

    The Reds will be regretting this contract, just as they will the Votto deal. This is a highly inefficient way to build a small revenue club and just to make sure that the team does not get its money’s worth, I suspect that a long term deal for Dusty Baker is next.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      I have no idea where all this money is coming from for the Reds. It’s not like these moves put them over the top in winning a championship. The Votto deal was an overpay but at least he is a MVP-caliber player. Phillips will barely be league average in a couple of years.

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  9. cable fixer says:

    I think Phillips is being unfairly victimized by 30/30 expectations that were unreasonable. Let’s compare him to another age 30 plus defender with six years left on a deal:

    From 06-11:
    Player A: Total UZR: 57.1, Total WAR: 24.6
    Player B: Total UZR: 51.1, Total WAR: 23.9

    A is Carl Crawford, B is Phillips.

    Phillips may never have achieved what we thought he could be, but he’s still pretty good…

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    • CJ says:

      Comparing a guy to Carl Crawford to say that his contract is worth it is… a good way to get torched.

      Seems like a lot of money. But I understand the logic. After signing Votto, Phillips is worth more. It’s like throwing good money after bad, except that in this case, Phillips is actually worth more to them when they have Votto, what with the win curve and all that.

      I personally don’t think the Reds’ window is as open as they think it is. But what do I know?

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      • cable fixer says:

        I’m not saying his contract is worth it or not. I’m saying people are underselling how good brandon phillips has been for the last 6 years.

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  10. Shaun Catron says:

    Gotta spend money to make money!

    Though I wouldn’t spend $70mil on Brandon Phillips.

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  11. Dave Silverwood says:

    This is un-heaithy to the Reds in the future same as the Votto signing it’s a disgrace for the Reds if they don’t draw enough for future considerations that include Cueto and Latos , also Soriano reference should be heeded.

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