Unsigned Free Agent Brandon Phillips Still Has Value

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On August 31, 2017, the Atlanta Braves traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Tony Sanchez. It showed that the four-time Gold Glove Award winner was a valued trade deadline asset that a contender like the Angels, at the time, would want his services.

Fast forward to April 18, 2018. I’m sitting here and writing a column about how Phillips remains unsigned. How can you go from desired stretch run acquisition to unsigned, lonesome free agent in just a few months? That’s the arch Phillips rode into his current state, wherein the three-time All-Star continues his exercises in his native Georgia in hopes of a major league team noticing and inking him to a contract.

Phillips insists that he will play in 2018 despite not yet having landed with a team, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported a while back. Phillips believes he can still assist an MLB team in winning games, and despite his age, his stats make a pretty convincing case that he’s right. Though he’s 36, he slashed a serviceable .285/.319/.416 last season, which is about league-average for second basemen.

Phillips added 13 home runs and 60 RBIs in 144 games between Atlanta and Anaheim, while swiping 11 bags and slapping 48 extra base-hits last season. It was the third consecutive season in which the right-handed hitter hit at least .285 with double-digit long balls and 60 or more runs driven in.

Phillips has been league average or better in strikeout percentage over his career, a number that has even gotten better with age. Just 12.1 percent of his at-bats ended in strikeouts in 2017 — for reference, that’s better than Jose Altuve (12.8 percent) and Mike Trout (18.5 percent), who are regarded to be the best hitters in the game.

Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips is still without a job, but he could still provide some value to a major-league team.Click To Tweet

Advanced metrics will tell you he is declining, and there’s no way to deny that — the only undefeated presence in the history of sports is time. But at 36, he played 946 innings at second base, fielding at a .984 clip and ending up about average in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Though his status as an elite defender has fallen, he remains a formidable, reliable presence on the infield dirt.

Phillips has said that he’s open to playing all around the diamond, or to be featured in a platoon role (an otherwise dreaded assignment for veteran players). He’s such a team-first guy that he’s willing to sacrifice playing time and his previous stardom just to lace his cleats up and play.

Long story short, Phillips is a slightly below-average player whose raw skill should be good enough to find him a spot in an MLB batting order. Even if his actual on-field contributions aren’t enough to sway you, he can be that dugout glue guy — that veteran locker room presence — meant solely to mentor younger players fresh up from the minor leagues.

There are a bounty of teams that could use a guy like Phillips, regardless of how they might feel about his level of play. If you’re unimpressed by his glove and his bat, Brandon Phillips the human being, rather than Brandon Phillips the player, can still be of use this late into his All-Star career.

Especially for the teams that are more concerned with player development and draft stock, the tankers in MLB, Phillips has value to him in many ways. This is a league where guys like 34-year-old Jed Lowrie and 36-year-old Ben Zobrist have jobs in the exact same roles: the platooning, semi-utility guys who provide a dugout companionship for the younger guys. Phillips can be the same guy.

Brandon Phillips’ career might be over. If not, he’ll give it his all for a contender as a late-game defensive replacement or a team-first bench guy, or for a tank-embracing club as a cheap all-around leader. Any way it comes, Phillips will be ready.

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