The Cincinnati Reds extended second baseman Brandon Phillips to a 6 year deal worth $72.5 million according to Jim Bowden. It’s slightly less than the deal the Texas Rangers signed with Ian Kinsler signed yesterday. Phillips has often been considered one of the best second baseman in the game, so extending him in Cincinnati seemed like the obvious move, right? Let’s take a look.
Phillips has been a fairly valuable player over the past three seasons. Between 2009 and 2011 he hit 284/338/445, hitting 56 home runs, stealing 55 bases, all while playing above average defence. The total package earned him 13.6 WAR according to Fangraphs, making him the 6th most valuable second baseman over that time. Phillips isn’t exactly in his prime at 31, so this will take him through his decline phase.
There’s been no question that Phillips can produce at a high level. However, we have to recognize that Phillips’ home park, Great American Ball Park, is one that inflates offence. So how much has hitting in Cincinnati boosted Phillips’ production?
Thanks to the magic of Fangraphs, we can determine where Phillips ranks while taking all this into account. wRC+ takes a player’s production and adjusts it based on their ball park and whether they play in the American or National League. It uses wOBA (or weighted on base %, a more accurate judge of talent than OPS) to determine whether a player was above or below league average. So a wRC+ of 100 would be league average, and something like 110 would mean a player is 10% above average when accounting for their league and stadium, among other things.
Between 2009 and 2011, Phillips is tied for 8th with Howie Kendrick and Martin Prado with a 107 wRC+. So Phillips has only been around 7% above league average offensively. While that’s impressive for a player at a critical defensive position, it also means that Phillips isn’t an elite run producer. In the offseason Kendrick signed a deal worth $33.5 million over 4 years. Kendrick doesn’t have the track record or defensive skills of Phillips, so it makes sense that Kendrick makes less than Phillips. However, Kendrick’s deal starts when he is 29, while Phillips’ deal will start during his age 32 season. Given that Phillips will be out of his prime, are his longer track record and defence really worth an additional 4 million per year AND an extra two years?
In the short term the Reds need Phillips to compete. There’s no question about that, and given how close they are to the playoffs they are in a position where it’s worth overpaying Phillips. That being said, because of his home park Phillips’ offensive production is overrated, and the Reds have given a significant amount of money to a player who will be in his decline years.
For a small market team like Cincinnati, this is a fairly big risk. Only time will tell if signing Phillips to this deal was worth it. In the short term, Cincinnati has locked up two of their star players in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, giving them an excellent chance to compete over the next few years. If Cincinnati wins a championship along the way, nobody will mind if the Reds had to overpay Phillips in order to get a ring.