As reported by Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports, via Twitter, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips will undergo surgery tomorrow for a torn ligament in his thumb, and recovery will take several weeks at least. Like Joey Votto before him, Phillips suddenly finds himself out of the Reds’ immediate plans, which means the team must scramble to find a replacement. The question is, of course, what options do they have at this point in the season?
Well, the timing of the injury is lucky in one respect, in that it comes three weeks before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. That means that Cincinnati, already in need of help at shortstop, left field, and middle relief, might also jump into the trade market at second base. Several names come to mind as potential replacements, depending on how aggressive the Reds want to be.
First on my list would be Ben Zobrist, of the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist’s power numbers are down a bit from his early 2010s peak, but he still has six home runs on the year and is getting on base at a .352 clip. He potentially will be a free agent at the end of the season, with the Rays holding a $7.5 million option and a $500K buyout. That means the Reds could hold on to him for another year if things work out. Zobrist’s versatility is extremely attractive given the recent gaping holes in Cincy’s lineup, and he should be high on GM Walt Jocketty’s shopping list, as well.
It seems like every time I sit down to write about potential Reds’ acquisitions, the Chicago White Sox come up, and this situation is no exception. Sox second-bagger Gordon Beckham is a few ticks below Zobrist in terms of production, but he’s five years younger (28 v. 33) and costs about $3 million less per year than does Zobrist. Beckham is under team control through 2016, so he could figure into the Reds’ long-term plans were Phillips to suffer a further setback.
At the other end of the spectrum from Beckham is the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley, who at 35 is still showing good power and OBP skills, and who is part of an aging Phillies core that’s about to be cast to the wind. That means he probably wouldn’t cost a ton in terms of prospects, unless the Phils assumed a hefty portion of his considerable 2015 salary ($15 million). Renting Utley seems like a dicey, pricey proposition, but he would fill a hole.
The Arizona Diamondbacks boast two possible second base targets for the Reds in Aaron Hill and Martin Prado. Hill is struggling this season, and Prado could also help in the outfield, so the latter probably fits the bill better for Cincinnati. Prado, though, has more than $25 million coming to him over the next two-and-a-half seasons, which might be too steep for the Reds.
Given Jocketty’s general lack of trade activity, coupled with the Reds’ other glaring needs, it’s quite possible that they will look for internal options to hold the tide until Phillips returns. The problem with that thought is that the cupboard is pretty thin. Ramon Santiago got the immediate start in Phillips stead, and the recently recalled Kristopher Negron will likely see some time at the keystone. The Reds also still have 24-year-old Henry Rodriguez in the system, but his prospect shine wore off quite a while ago.
Whatever Cincinnati plans to do, if anything, they need to do it soon. It will be August before we know it, and it’s hard to see the Reds or their fans having any kind of fun in the dog days with the lineup as currently constituted.