Brandon Phillips is going to be a free agent after this year. He'll be 31, and he plays a position that ages worse than any other position with the exception of catcher. He's also really good. By several measures, he had his best season as a hitter last year, and his defense remains stellar.
Also, he projects as one of the few premium free agents. The Dodgers will have a fistful of bills and an indiscriminate eye. Some of the usual suspects will be set at second base -- Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers -- but there will still be a market for Phillips. If someone wants him, they'll give him five years.
The Reds are reportedly offering four:
Am hearing @Reds are offering 4 years to B Phillips. With Kinsler likely to get 6 yrs from Texas- Phillips can't sign for less than 5— Jim Duquette (@Jim_Duquette) April 5, 2012
It's going to be an ugly contract at the end, of course. They all are. But it seems like teams aren't worrying about that these days, especially the teams built to win now. Get the player, worry about the rest later. But the Reds probably aren't going to be that team. They just signed Votto for a private island in the South Pacific and the secret of immortality. They have their franchise player.
There's a parallel, and it's a close one, both in context and geography. The Brewers had a star who was a couple of years from free agency, but they locked him up for the next decade for many millions. They placed the gold star on Ryan Braun instead of Prince Fielder. They sent a clear message that Braun was the face of the franchise. They would have sent the message overnight but, you know, everything was closed and stuff.
Phillips isn't Fielder. The choice probably wasn't as hard for several reasons. But once the mammoth long-term deal was signed, the intentions were clear. It was a team saying "This is the guy we want swinging the bat in our commercials. This is the guy whose face will be printed on our tickets. This is the guy we're expecting to be on the 16,391 different bobbleheads we're giving out over the next decade. The other guy is really, really good, but we can't have them both."
Even more than that, the Reds would like to think they have their shortstop for the near future in Zack Cozart, and they'll eventually have to find a place for stolen-base wunderkind Billy Hamilton, who will probably be moved to second at some point regardless. Locking up Phillips for five years is a commitment that might be right for another organization, but probably not the Reds.
A four-year deal is something that you present to Phillips to make it look like you're trying. That sounds more cynical than it is. A team can't just say, "Later, man, and thanks for all those wins" and not offer him a contract at all. And four years is something he might even consider taking if he's especially comfortable. The Reds are doing exactly what they need to do.
Probably like the Brewers did with Fielder. And at the end, when the rumors were swirling, the Brewers were right there with the Pirates and A's when it came to the volume of Prince Fielder rumors associated with them. This is almost certainly the last season for Phillips on the Reds. It probably was before the Votto deal. It almost certainly is now.