Toronto Blue Jays Can Do Better Than Cincinnati Reds' Brandon Phillips

By Thom Tsang
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Phillips has been an All-Star twice in the last three years. He’s durable, having recorded no less than 623 PA in each of the last seven seasons, and he’s been one of the best second baseman in the league, ranking fifth with 11.9 fWAR between 2011 and 2013. As it so happens, he’s also going to be very much available, if rumors are to be believed.

So why would the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with basically nothing viable at second base right now, not actively pursue the Cincinnati Reds star in a trade?

Well, there are a number of factors at play here, though the most obvious answer is the reason why he’d be on the trade market to begin with. Locked in to a long-term contract that will pay him $50 million over the next four years, Phillips isn’t exactly egregiously overpaid, though it is worth noting that there are warning signs suggesting that those days could come sooner rather than later.

Yes, he’s still in his prime at 32-years old, but consider the three-year downward trends in the following numbers:

2011: .810 OPS, 122 wRC+, .157 ISO
2012: .750 OPS, 101 wRC+, .148 ISO
2013: .706 OPS, 91 wRC+, .135 ISO

Ironically, despite having arguably his worst offensive season in the better part of a decade, he managed to drive in 103 runs in 2013. It’s a lineup-dependent number that should be wholly ignored, although there’s no doubt that it can be spun as Phillips being a consistent run producer. Whether you choose to look at his 2.6 fWAR 2013 as a down year or not, it’s hard to ignore that his stellar 5.6 fWAR 2011 season was likely his peak.

But does he hold steady at around 3.0-3.5 fWAR through the next few years, or are his physical abilities actually in decline?

That his swinging strike rate has seen a three-year rise (8.7 percent, 9.7, 10.8 in 2013) isn’t exactly a vote of confidence, and even though his BABIP decline appears to be influenced by the baseball gods (there’s no significant change in his batting profile from 2012 to 2013 as far as line drives and infield hits go), it is worth mentioning that his .396 slugging in 2013 was an eight-year low.

And as for defense? Well, he was still excellent at 10.9 fielding runs above average in 2013, but keep in mind that he did commit a four-year high nine errors. Combined with the fact that he stole an eight-year low five bases and that he’d be taking the same legs to the turf at the Rogers Center … let’s just say there’d be some concerns about the wheels deteriorating as he heads into his mid 30s, yes?

Though the Blue Jays should be taking an approach fitting with the nothing that they have at second (ie. anyone about replacement level would be good), the potential decline of production means that this is one contract that they might not want to take on. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but despite the free agent market for second baseman being thin this offseason, the Blue Jays do have options.

Like who? There’s Omar Infante, who the Detroit Tigers might not choose to re-sign. If he can’t be convinced to take Toronto’s money, how about Los Angeles AngelsHowie Kendrick, who was linked to the team as a potential trade target earlier this summer? At 11.3 fWAR from 2011-2013 and owed just 18.85 million over the next two years, he’d be a much better fit for the team’s needs.

He’s not the first Angels player that’s been linked to the bluebirds over the last few months either, so there might be something semi-brewing there with the Blue Jays looking to their AL West brethren to fill needs at catcher and second base.

It’s not like Phillips would hurt the team’s chances of competing in the short term. However, given what the Reds might ask for him and the risk that he carries … Toronto should probably look to see what else is out there first, that’s all.

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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