Brandon Phillips said yesterday that he’d “love to get an extension” from the Reds, telling John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that “it would be nice to be here for the rest of my career” and “I want to know a guarantee instead of a possibility.”
So why haven’t the two sides worked something out already? General manager Walt Jocketty told Fay that he’s had some communication with Phillips’ agent, but with the second baseman under contract for this season at $11 million and the Reds holding a $12 million option or $1 million buyout on him for 2012 there’s really no huge rush to get a new deal done.
Presumably any long-term extension would likely start at $11-$12 million per season and the Reds may not be so keen on keeping Phillips at that price after opening up their wallet for some younger building blocks this offseason.
In five seasons with the Reds he’s averaged 21 homers and 24 steals while playing very good defense at second base, but Phillips’ overall production has been less than spectacular with a .275 batting average, .326 on-base percentage, and .447 slugging percentage. During the past three seasons his .764 OPS ranks tied for 10th among all second basemen with Orlando Hudson, who signed a two-year, $11.5 milllion deal with the Padres this winter.
Hudson is a couple years older than Phillips, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but Phillips-like production can usually be had for significantly less than $12 million per season, not to mention a long-term commitment. Phillips is 30 years old and has slugged just .407 away from the Reds’ hitter-friendly ballpark during the past three seasons. He’s a very good all-around player and has been worth $12 million in most seasons so far, but the Reds may not want to pay him like that into his mid-30s and it would be tough to blame them.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.