CINCINNATI — The Reds have been moving down their offseason checklist pretty well for the most part.
Trade Todd Frazier.
Trade Aroldis Chapman.
Whoops, the Chapman trade is off.
Trade Chapman again.
Trade Brandon Phillips.
Whoops, the Phillips trade is off.
President of baseball operations Walt Jocketty said trading Phillips now is unlikely. He rejected the trade to the Washington Nationals by exercising his 5/10 right (five years with one team, 10 years service time).
That one snag really puts a crimp in the Reds’ rebuilding program. The Reds got Phillips’ replacement, Jose Peraza, in the Frazier trade. Now, they have nowhere for him to play. And you have the prospect of Phillips being here two more years, knowing all that time that the Reds would rather he be elsewhere.
This situation points to the danger of long-term contracts. When the Reds re-signed Phillips in 2012, it looked like the franchise was in the early stages of a long climb toward consistent excellence. But then, as they say, stuff happened. The Reds didn’t advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2012 when they had arguably one of the two or three best rosters in baseball.
The team regressed in 2013. Then 2014 and 2015 were disasters. Now, the rebuilding has commenced.
In retrospect, the Reds should have never signed Phillips to that deal. There were plenty of people in the front office who thought that. Phillips has delivered as a player. He’s as good as it gets defensively. Injuries pushed his offensive numbers down in 2014, but he bounced back with one of his better years in 2015. He hit .294 with 12 home runs, 70 RBI and 23 stolen bases.
That’s why the Nationals were willing to trade for him.
The fact that he would not go is baffling. The Nationals will be among the favorites to win the National League. The Reds, meanwhile, will be picked last in their division in 2016 — and possibly 2017 as well.
It’s Phillips’ right to reject the trade. He clearly loves playing in Cincinnati and he’s great with the fans. But you’ve got to wonder about a guy who would slog through the early stages of a rebuild, knowing that he won’t be here when things get better, rather than go to a team that surely will contend and could win the whole thing.
Others have reported Phillips wanted to add to his contract in order to approve the trade. He will have made over $100 million when his current deal runs out. As his career winds down (he’s 34), you’d think winning a ring would be more important than money.
Again, that’s his call.
I don’t think the Reds handled it well. They should have sat down with Phillips at Redsfest and explained that they were going to shop him and why. I’m not sure he would have agreed to a trade, but handling it through his agents after the trade was agreed upon — as the Reds did — wasn’t going to fly with a guy as sensitive as Phillips.
But that’s in the rearview mirror now.
The Reds have to figure a way to carry on with the rebuilding plan with Phillips still on the roster.
Jocketty said the club is not done.
“We’re still trying,” Jocketty said. “There’s just nothing hot right now. We’re trying to improve the club for this year and the future — more so for the future.”
If they can’t trade Phillips, that would probably mean moving Jay Bruce. Things have been quiet on the Bruce front this offseason. I was thinking that they were going to go into the season with him in right field and hope he turned it around at the plate, thus increasing his trade value.
I’m think now that they’ll move him if they can.
That doesn’t open a spot for Peraza, unless they played him in left field and play Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, the other player in the Frazier trade, in right. It’s not critical that Peraza play every day in the majors from the start of the season. But think of where Eugenio Suarez’s development would be if he hadn’t gotten all that time in the big leagues last year.
If Zack Cozart was coming off a healthy, productive year, the Reds might be able to move him in a trade to open a spot for Peraza. But Cozart must show his knee is healthy to have any trade value.
Ultimately, this offseason will be judged by how the prospects the Reds got in the trades develop. A lot of the experts have been underwhelmed with the haul.
But the Reds pro scouting department has done well in recent trades. Anyone want to argue against the Mat Latos-for-Anthony DeScalfani or Alfredo Simon-for-Suarez trades?
If Peraza and the players the Reds got for Chapman turn out to be important pieces in the rebuild, the offseason will be judged kindly.
But if they had been able to check off that Phillips trade, it would have had a chance to be better.
John Fay is freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.