Brandon Phillips has had quite the offseason. He has seen several of his most talented teammates traded, and one of those trades brought back a potential replacement in Jose Peraza. The Reds then tried to trade Phillips to both the Nationals and Diamondbacks, but Phillips full no-trade ability allowed him to block both deals. He apparently wanted too much money in return for accepting the trades, a tidbit stated publically by Walt Jocketty.
Many fans still want to see Phillips in a Reds uniform, even if the organization does not. He remains popular, and his brand has remained strong even after some ugly instances.
The next couple of seasons could test the patience of his supporters though. Phillips seemed to be on a steady decline before he reset his value last season. He will turn 35 in June, and guys in their mid 30s often collapse without much warning.
Even if Phillips remains productive over the next two seasons, the Reds have plenty of middle infielders ready to take over. Since they likely wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t compete for a playoff spot in the next couple of seasons, they likely want to get their prospects regular playing time at the highest level.
JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s public acknowledgement that Phillips wanted too much in return to accept a trade may foreshadow a future (current?) tension between the organization and a popular but aging player. If Phillips doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t receive the playing time he think he deserves, things could get ugly and in a very public fashion. He saved his own RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ career by rejecting deals to better clubs, but his time in Cincinnati is numbered regardless.
With that knowledge, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve begun to wonder: how will we remember Brandon Phillips when his career is over? Phillips may be the most unpopular popular (you read that correctly) player in Reds history. He is incredibly likeable, except that he is not that likeable. People agree that he has been a great player for the Reds, except those people who think heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s overrated. His time in Cincinnati has been the best of times and the worst of times.
The worst of times come mostly from PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ off the field behavior. In 2013, he called owner Bob Castellini a liar, prompting speculation that he would be traded following the season. Later that year, he berated C. Trent Rosencrans for bringing up PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lackluster OBP in a tweet. Redleg Nation didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t escape his wrath either as Phillips sent a direct message to the siteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s twitter account laced with profanity and disdain for the site.
PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ performance on the field also caused controversy, though not to the same degree. He frequently gets caught up in the statistical debate of old versus new metrics. As some fans and writers rallied around PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ love for RBIs and sacrifice bunts, others derided him for being overrated. A fierce battle broke out with Phillips and Joey Votto in the middle of the fray.
He harshly criticized stat guys as geeks and nerds and suggested they were Ã¢â‚¬Å“messing up baseball.Ã¢â‚¬Â His disdain for new metrics is fine. His anger towards those who use them to evaluate players (Rosencrans) is unacceptable.
These instances were all ugly. Phillips comes off as petty, overly sensitive, and childish in his worst moments. Unfortunately, these moments are hard to forget and a part of what we have come to expect from him.
His worst moments lead some to believe that PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ career with the Reds will have an ugly ending. But even if that does happen, I hope we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember him for any of the cringe worthy stuff. If we get in the habit of remembering people at their worst, a lot of us are in trouble.
For those of us that grew up with the disastrous teams of the mid 90s through the first decade of the 21st century, PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ time with the Reds roughly mirrors a time of renewal for the franchise, and the gifted second baseman played a large role in that renewal.
PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ story is well known in Reds country. In 2006, the Cleveland Indians decided that Johnny Peralta was their shortstop of the future and sent a disgruntled, young Phillips to Cincinnati in return for a bag of balls. A year later, Phillips produced 4.4 WAR while hitting 30 homeruns and stealing 30 bases. He had his best year in 2011 when he hit .300/.353/.457 and earned 5.4 WAR.
PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ calling card on the field has always been his defense. While the numbers are traditional and advanced metrics are fantastic, the individual plays like the following stand out.
His array of over the shoulder catches, barehanded throws, and diving stops seem endless. And he did it all with a smile that reveals a genuine love for the game. Fans love that stuff. Beat writers love that stuff. Baseball needs that stuff.
And PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ passion has never come under question. His enthusiasm during the 2013 Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates was lauded by fans. He clearly loves the game and enjoys himself like little leaguers do: the game is the reward in itself.
PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ also seems willing to invest in fans and the community. In spite of some previously stated rough moments, the fans have largely embraced him. My favorite PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fan story happened in 2011. A 14-year-old boy asked Phillips to come to his little league game, and Phillips obliged. He went by himself, taking pictures and tweeting from the game. What 14 year old hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t dreamed of playing in front of their baseball idol?
Rarely do we see baseball players invest in their fans so personally. Phillips is notorious for engaging with his fans, even taking them to dinner after games (see previous link). He may be sensitive to criticism about his performance, but he certainly seems to love the people of Cincinnati.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how I hope we remember Brandon Phillips. Whether underrated or overrated, he was a good player for some really good teams. And he enjoyed the ride as much as anyone weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ever seen. Baseball needs more players to interact intimately with their fans the way Phillips does. Yes, he has had some ugly moments, but he has given more than he has taken and for that, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m grateful.