|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
John Coppolella should trade Brandon Phillips.
Sure, we can talk into lengths (and have) about the limitations with trading Phillips. To sum up, the market is likely small for a second baseman who can’t play anywhere else and has the ability to block trades to a dozen other teams. Such a small market makes Phillips a guy who won’t bring much in a trade. Even though he’s dirt cheap (less than a half-a-million for the rest of the year) and could be in line for a 2 fWAR season, without many teams in the hunt, Phillips just isn’t going to attract the attention Coppolella would like. Coppy is not the type of general manager to pull the trigger on a trade just to trade someone. He’s all about maximizing value and giving away Phillips for a C-grade prospect is not what he usually goes for.
But the Braves aren’t acquiring a prospect for Phillips if they do trade the veteran. Sure, in the basic sense, they are getting a player or two for Phillips, but what they are truly acquiring is a roster spot and a spot in the lineup. What the Braves are trading for is time for Ozzie Albies, who many, myself included, feel is ready for a promotion to the major leagues. If it weren’t for the presence of Albies, I wouldn’t be promoting a trade of Phillips. While I wouldn’t have minded one, considering that I don’t think the market will develop for him in a significant way, I would also be okay with keeping him.
With Albies in the mix, though, I want Phillips traded. It has nothing to do with the veteran and everything to do with beginning the Albies era. Consider this: Albies is now hitting .292/.336/.451 over 80 games. He batted a measly .248/.307/.351 at Gwinnett during a 56-game run there last year so he’s improved upon those numbers notably. Also, those full-season numbers don’t tell you how Albies has played recently. From May 8 to July 9, Albies has slashed .318/.368/.495 with nine doubles, six triples, six home runs, and is successful in all but one of his 13 stolen base attempts. Feel free to troll, “is that good?”
Not only is he showing a lot of new power with a career-high of seven home runs, four of them have come against left-hand pitching and his overall marks against southpaws continue to improve – a product of working with a pretty good switch-hitter in his own right, Chipper Jones. Oh, and when I said he’s already set a career-high in homers, it’s worth remembering that he’s also matched his career total entering the season. If you are looking for a word to describe Albies’ season to this point, it’s the same word my three-year-old’s preschool teacher used to describe my Riley monster – “blossoming.”
Remember that Albies is only 20 years-old. That is seven years younger than the average International League player. For the second consecutive year, he’s the youngest player in the league and over the last two months, he’s finding it. He’s caught up – a lot quicker than everyone else.
You might contend that trading Brandon Phillips hurts the Braves’ chances of possibly sneaking into a playoff spot. Of course, as of right now, there’s about a 2.4% chance of the Braves making the playoffs, but you Lloyd Christmases out there only read “chance” out of that sentence, didn’t you? Let me put it in a way that might rest your fears of missing out on the chance to get to the playoffs if Atlanta trades Phillips – they may not miss a beat. Again, as impressive as Phillips has been, he still ranks 16th in fWAR among 2B this year. While he’s been a surprise of sorts, he’s not irreplaceable.
|Grant McAuley – Follow on Twitter – used with permission|
Even if you ignore that Phillips hasn’t established a hard-to-duplicate pace and that, at 36, a hot summer in Atlanta might get to him, there is another reason to believe trading Phillips won’t hurt. Albies could be just as valuable during the second half of the season as Phillips would be. Let me start by saying Phillips is a slightly below-average defender right now. He once was elite, but over the last three years, time has caught with him. He carries a -0.1 UZR/150, -5 rPM, and -4 DRS into the break. Albies is carrying some negative defensive grades of his own according to Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics but routinely has been above-average at both shortstop and second base over his career. Heading into this season, he made MLB.com Pipeline’s All-Defensive Team at second base. I am confident he would outproduce Phillips defensively.
Base-running wise could be a bit of a wash. Albies, being young and inexperienced, would likely have a few TOOTBLANs here-and-there, but Phillips runs into some crazy-dumb mistakes as well. As far as base stealing, Albies is easily the bigger threat there. He’s swiped 21-of-23 attempts this season while Phillips is 7-for-11. While Albies may struggle as he learns to read new pitchers and deal with the best catchers in the world, he’s definitely the better bet to be a weapon on the basepaths than Phillips at this point.
At the plate, Phillips may have the edge, but don’t be so sure about that. While you can expect Albies to struggle as he adjusts – at the age of 20 – to major league pitchers and advanced scouting, Phillips’ modest offensive numbers could still be reached considering Albies’ improving offensive game. Do I think Albies could post a 94 wRC+ in the majors this season as Phillips so far has done? Absolutely.
Let’s also not ignore that the Braves will have backup options should Albies prove not to be ready for a full-time gig in the majors. Johan Camargo is currently a man without a position short of stealing playing time from Dansby Swanson. He could move over to second base and help out over there. In addition, the Braves have Sean Rodriguez on his way back. They could also give Micah Johnson some time at second base, a position he has a lot of experience playing. These options are not ideal. I would prefer Ozzie Albies succeeding and sticking in the lineup. However, the Braves have other players they can go to should Albies need to head back down. In addition, you could make a compelling argument that a Camargo/Rodriguez timeshare would be just as good as Phillips.
Further, to circle back to the whole idea of hurting the current squad, allow me to present the 1997 Chicago White Sox. On July 31 of that year, they were 53-53 and three games back in the AL Central. But they saw the writing on the wall. They knew they were not a good team and rather than keep the pieces together for one little run, they traded off pending free agents Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez in a deal with the Giants. Combined, Alvarez and Darwin started 28 games and Hernandez saved 27 prior to the trade. The White Sox received a package of six players in the deal, including Keith Foulke and Bob Howry – players that would help shape the team’s next five years. The trade also opened the door for youngsters like Scott Eyre and Mike Sirotka to get an extended look. After the trade, the White Sox went 27-28. They were effectively the same team before and after the trade.
I started this article with a simple statement. Brandon Phillips should be traded. As I said, it has precious little to do with Phillips and everything to do with Albies. The time is now for another step in the rebuild to be crossed. It’s time for the Ozzie Albies era to begin.