This offseason, the Tigers have a chance to acquire a second baseman that posted the fifth-best OPS on his team among everyday players in 2013. Sure, he will be 32 on Opening Day in 2014, but sometimes that veteran presence can be a benefit in the locker room, right? Hey, bringing back Omar Infante sounds like a great idea!
Who is he?
Phillips was a second round pick by the Montreal Expos (R.I.P.) in 1999. He was part of one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history. In 2002, the Expos shipped him, Grady Sizemore, and Cliff Lee to the Cleveland Indians for Bartolo Colon. Phillips broke into the bigs with the Indians in '02, but was traded to the Cincinnati Reds four years later. It was only after that trade that Phillips blossomed. He hit .276/.324/.427 with 17 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2006. In eight years with the Reds, Phillips has a .766 OPS with 160 home runs and 155 stolen bases.
Why should we care?
Throughout Phillips' Reds career, he has been as well-rounded a second baseman as any in baseball. He had three consecutive 20-homer seasons from 2007 to 2009 -- and hasn't hit fewer than 18 ever since -- and four seasons with 23 (or more) stolen bases. Normally, that 15-20 homer pop comes with a high strikeout rate, but Phillips has had a sub-15% strikeout rate in each of the past five seasons.
He has done all of this while playing elite defense, compiling +45 defensive runs saved and a UZR of +67.3 in a Reds uniform. He has played in 1204 games in those eight seasons, an average of 150 per year.
Why should we stay away?
Middle infielders don't tend to age well after they turn 30, and Phillips is already showing signs of decline. He hit just .261/.310/.396 last season, his worst offensive season in a Reds uniform. He also stole just five bases in eight attempts, well below the 21 he averaged per year in the previous seven seasons. Advanced statistics have never been a huge fan of Phillips' bat either. His career wOBA is an unimpressive .325 with a career high of just .353, and he has had just one season with a wRC+ over 104*.
Additionally, Phillips is due $50 million over the next four seasons. This would not be worrying if he were younger and we could write off 2013 as a blip on the radar. However, he's not and we can't (yet). Add in the fact that the Reds will be asking for a bevy of prospects in return for Phillips' services and the Tigers are probably best served looking elsewhere.
*To be fair, wRC+ isn't always the most fair metric to use with middle infielders because it compares all hitters regardless of position. That said, Omar Infante has more seasons with a wRC+ over 104 than Phillips does.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It's not likely. Even if the Tigers were interested in trading for Phillips, they probably don't have the pieces to get a deal done. Any package that brings Phillips to Detroit would undoubtedly be centered around Nick Castellanos, and it still appears that the Tigers view him as untouchable. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but I would be extremely surprised if we see Phillips at Comerica Park next season.
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