Brandon Phillips might soon be headed to the Washington Nationals. That’s good news for Phillips, good news for manager Dusty Baker and quite possibly good news for the Nats themselves.

The deal isn’t done yet. But on Tuesday, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported the Nationals “are discussing” a trade with the Cincinnati Reds that would send the veteran second baseman to the nation’s capital.

Baker, of course, was Phillips’ skipper for six years with the Reds, and the two were close by all accounts. Now, Baker has a chance to add an ally and trusted lineup cog as he takes the reins of a team in need of a serious course correction.

As for Phillips, a trade to Washington (or anywhere) would get him out of a strained situation in Cincinnati. Phillips is a fan favorite and three-time All-Star, but his relationship with the media and teammates has been rocky.

In 2013, Phillips launched into an expletive-filled tirade against a reporter in Baker’s office. That same year, an unnamed clubhouse source questioned Phillips’ loyalty to the team, per Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News.

“You can’t tell by Brandon’s face whether we won or lost,” the source told McCoy, “but you can tell if he went 0-for-4 or 2-for-4 no matter if we won or lost.”

That raises the legitimate question of whether Phillips would jell with the Nationals. They got a bitter taste of clubhouse acrimony last season, which culminated in the ugly dugout scuffle between closer Jonathan Papelbon and MVP outfielder Bryce Harper.

Do they really need another player with a reputation as a malcontent?

Well, that’s where Baker comes in. Criticize him all you want for his noted aversion to analytics. Chastise him as a “clog-up-the-bases” luddite. And by all means shake your head at the tone-deaf comments he made to reporters about domestic violence in the wake of the Aroldis Chapman incident.

The one thing essentially no one denies about Baker is that he’s an excellent players’ manager. He babysat Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in San Francisco and handled Sammy Sosa in Chicago. Surely he can juggle the egos in the Nats’ locker room.

Having Phillips in his corner might make that task a little easier. And assuming Phillips isn’t a distraction off the field, he should be an asset on it. 

Yes, he turns 35 in June. But he’s coming off a solid season that saw him play 148 games while posting a .294/.328/.395 slash line with 12 home runs and 70 RBI. And while he may not live up to his four-time Gold Glove pedigree, he was still good for five defensive runs saved in 2015, per FanGraphs

With Ian Desmond likely to walk via free agency, Yunel Escobar traded to the Los Angeles Angels and questions about the readiness of touted prospect Trea Turner, the Nationals need stability in the middle infield.

Phillips doesn’t fill the shortstop void left by Desmond, obviously, but he could provide a veteran ballast if Turner gets the Opening Day nod or allow Danny Espinosa to slide over to short as a placeholder. 

The Nationals, as Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer argued, are in unambiguous win-now mode with Stephen Strasburg hitting free agency next winter and Harper almost surely following him in 2018. Unless Washington is willing to open the vault, both players could leave. 

So the focus needs to be on constructing a winner now and atoning for last season’s epic collapse. It won’t be easy with the defending National League champion New York Mets now positioned as the class of the NL East.

As an added bonus, however, Phillips owns strong career numbers against the Mets, including an .863 OPS. 

Phillips is owed $13 million next season and $14 million in 2017. He also has a full no-trade clause but could ask for an extension or pay increase in return for waiving it, as Rosenthal noted. At the same time, Rosenthal added, “The Nationals should be in a flexible position financially—they recently offered free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward $200 million over an undisclosed number of years.”

Phillips isn’t Heyward, not even close. But with top free-agent options like Ben Zobrist off the board, he looks like a fit at second for the Nats. He’s definitely a fit with Baker.

And as the old saying doesn’t quite goIf the trade fits, make it.


All statistics and contract information current as of Dec. 15 and courtesy of unless otherwise noted. 

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