At this point, the only thing that may stand in the way of Brandon Phillips becoming a member of the Washington Nationals is the All-Star second baseman’s willingness to waive his 10-and-5 rights. Having played the past 10 years of his 14-year career with the Cincinnati Reds, Phillips can block a trade if he so desires. There’s little doubt a reunion with Dusty Baker would not pique the interest of the three-time All-Star.
If all that’s left to do for the Reds and Nationals is determine which prospects and how much of the remaining $27 million owed to Phillips will change hands. The Nationals need a starting second baseman for 2016, having already traded Yunel Escobar. They’ve missed out on Ben Zobrist already this year, and the only other viable second base options on the market are Howie Kendrick and Daniel Murphy. Both will likely make more than what Phillips will earn over the next two years.
The Nationals are continuing to try and capitalize on the final few years of their best shot at contention. Phillips is a veteran who should bring a solid leadership presence to a clubhouse that does not seem to have one outright. There is already plenty of history between Baker and Phillips, so a transition from team-to-team should be smooth.
At this point in his career, however, the Nationals will be getting a reduced version of the player Phillips once was. He’s no longer the 20-home-run threat he once was. The 2011 Silver Slugger has not posted a slugging percentage over .400 in three years. His on-base percentage struggles to crack .300. With his decline in slugging and on-base percentages, Phillips has not posted an OPS+ over 100 since his Silver Slugger year. On the basepaths, the speedster had seen his stolen base numbers fall off precipitously before rebounding to swipe 23 bags in 2015. Defensively, Phillips has also begun declining, and he is no longer the same second baseman who won four Gold Gloves.
Brandon Phillips might still be a decent option for the Nationals despite his demise. His offensive production should at least rival that of Murphy and Kendrick, at a similar price. There are only two years left on the deal, so it is not a lengthy commitment. Still, this is not a significant upgrade over the production of Escobar last year.
If the Nationals are serious about making a trade, there is another option worth considering — Rob Refsnyder of the New York Yankees. Refsnyder has his path to the big leagues blocked now by Starlin Castro. Dustin Ackley is perfectly capable of serving as a backup, and the Yankees may begin to consider trading Refsnyder. He is not nearly as valuable to them as a bench player.
The former fifth round pick has already proven all he needs to in the minor leagues, and it’s now or never. In four years in the Yankees system, Refsnyder has hit .290/.380/.432. At Triple-A, he has a .282/.370/.432 line with 17 home runs. Refsnyder hit well in a limited run with the Yankees in 2015.
Offensively, Refsnyder and Phillips are similar at this stage. Both should be expected to hit close to .270 over a full season with 10-15 home runs. Refsnyder will draw the walks that Phillips will not, and does have a little bit of speed. Phillips would have beaten out Refsnyder by a wide margin defensively earlier in his career, but the gap is now closing. Overall, if Rob Refsnyder lives up to expectations, he will equal or exceed 35-year-old Brandon Phillips.
Phillips still makes sense for the Nationals, and should be expected to end up there. It’s not a bad fit, but there could be a better option if the Nationals are willing to consider it. For now, the front office in D.C. seems hell-bent on reuniting Dusty Baker with as many of his former players as possible.