Get used to the way the right side of the infield looks in Cincinnati. It’s going to stay that way for a while. Today, the Cincinnati Reds locked up fan-favorite and second baseman Brandon Phillips, solidifying the tandem of Phillips and Votto for several years to come.
But the good news comes at a cost. Phillips’ 6-year/72.5 million dollar contract is no small price to pay for a small-market team that just invested over $200 million in first baseman Joey Votto. Tomorrow, when the news makes its rounds to the talking heads of sports, the question on the tips of their tongues will all be the same: Is he worth it?
The first thought that comes to mind is this: Yes, he’s worth every penny. Undoubtedly, Phillips’ versatile game of solid offense and defense contributes value at a position that isn’t exactly deep in Major League Baseball. After all, some of the other second basemen in the NL Central are Darwin Barney, Daniel Descalso, Jose Altuve, and Neil Walker. Know much about them? –Yeah, me neither.
Twice an All-Star and thrice a Gold-Glover in his Reds tenure, Phillips has been a consistent mainstay on a team that has had little stability. He hits well. He fields well. The fans adore him. And most importantly, if he and Votto can replicate their WAR (Wins above Replacement) of last year, the tandem is worth an additional ten wins to the team per season.
That’s what makes Brandon Phillips worth a huge contract. Both on the field and off the field, he is valuable to the Cincinnati franchise. Fans have watched many players come and go and watched many players succeed then flounder. Phillips is a constant threat to impact a game, and thanks to this deal, a lock to impact the city of Cincinnati and the starving Reds fan base. That kind of universal appeal is priceless.
That being said, the numbers of the deal are surprising. The Reds, by extending this contract, must believe that Brandon Phillips is not just a solid second baseman, but an elite one. This is Chase Utley money. Utley’s extension with the Phillies covers 7 years/$85 million dollars, which is almost identical on a per year basis to Phillips’ contract still drying on his kitchen table. Looking at their numbers side-by-side, this is not an insignificant statement by the Reds.
Phillips is a better defensive second-baseman than Chase Utley. But otherwise, the numbers indicate that Utley is more valuable. And yet, despite these numbers, fans still question his contract because of subsequent injury concerns. With Phillips already 31 and playing an aggressive style of baseball, how will these numbers look when he is approaching 37? The Reds better hope he hasn’t peaked. Unlike Votto, Phillips is not an emerging star –he’s a veteran and leader. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.
Either the Reds have revealed a higher market for second basemen or, statistically speaking, it would appear they may have overpaid for Brandon Phillips. Putting his contract in the realm of Chase Utley says one of two things: They either expect him to replicate last season, in which he played amazing defense, batted .300, and proved to easily be the second most valuable and consistent player in the organization –or—the lack of depth at second base has pushed the prices up. It will be interesting to see the next contracts for players like Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler. Currently, they all make decidedly less than Phillips now does. For Reds fans, it will be even more interesting to see if he can start approaching these players’ values on the field.
What makes this contract seem reasonable, on the surface, is that baseball value goes beyond these statistics. Phillips represents a rare commodity –a great second basemen that provides above-average production on both sides of the ball. Beyond the names like Cano, Pedroia, and Utley, the next tier of second-base talent includes names like Omar Infante, Dustin Ackley, Rickie Weeks, and Danny Espinosa. Today, Phillips is better than all of these players. The Reds held on to piece that couldn’t have been easily replaced, and much like the Buffalo Bills with Mario Williams, a small market team often has to pay more money to secure their franchise players.
More importantly, the impact of Brandon Phillips goes beyond dollars, cents, batting statistics, and fielding metrics. The guy is a personality –a personality that the city of Cincinnati and Reds fans come to see and cheer on. You can’t measure the value of that. For a team that hasn’t seen World Series rings since 1990, and has only seen the playoffs twice in the meantime, the fans place great value in their heroes.
It’s been a while since the Redleg nation could embrace a champion the way they embraced Barry Larkin –both a face of the franchise and a great contributor. The signings of Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, no matter how pricy, prove that the Reds’ front office is devoted to bringing that possibility back to Cincinnati. Phillips and Votto are not only good baseball players. They are good baseball heroes and potential champions.
The Reds are all in. The antes are high. But if I were to bet on any two Reds to prove worthy of the risk, it’d be Phillips and Votto.
So get used to the right-side of the infield, Cincinnati. Your heroes are staying home.
You can follow Cory on Twitter @CoCoCoryCollins