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What does the Brett Phillips acquisition mean for the Rays?

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Is another outfield trade incoming?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired another version of Kevin Kiermaier. So. what does that mean for the Kevin Kiermaier they already have in stock?

Brett Phillips is a defensive stud and currently holds the Statcast record for the strongest throw ever: 104 mph during an outfield assist in 2017. However, thus far in his brief Major League career, his strong defensive capabilities have not been enough to make up for his low-contact offensive production.

Having played in a total of 136 games at the big league level, Phillips has hit .205/.282/.344 with 9 HR over 358 plate appearances. A strong rookie campaign in 2017 does most of the heavy lifting for his career numbers as he sports a 49 wRC+ since the start of the 2018 season.

Brett Phillips boasts above average raw power, but has yet to dial into it. For context in his career, here are the 20 players with the lowest contact rate in the zone dating back to the start of 2017, the year he made his debut, with a minimum of 350 plate appearances.

There are a few familiar names on this list, but there are two important ones highlighted.

This group of players is a mix of power hitters and not-great hitters, and there’s a little venn diagram to be observed if you were to bucket these names out where Phillips belongs (thus far). Among these 20 names, only two players have swung less often than Phillips has — Avila, Fisher. Part of the solution may just be getting him to swing more often and hope the power stroke comes with the frequency.

If more consistent playing time were the answer, he wasn’t going to find it in Kansas City. Thus far in 2020, the Kansas City Royals used Phillips sparingly, with the plus defender only receiving 6 plate appearances since August 9th.

Will he get that opportunity in Tampa Bay?

Phillips is now a member of the Rays, although he won’t be added to the active roster for several days due to COVID intake procedures. Phillips is out of options, so he must be placed on the Rays Major League roster, but that becomes an interesting problem for the Rays as there is seemingly no place for him to easily fit in.

Unless, of course, this signals a trade of one of the Rays outfielders. We already noted Hunter Renfroe could be considered the odd man out, but one has to wonder if such a plus defender spells an end for Kevin Kiermaier, either at the trade deadline or in the off season.

The often injured Kiermaier has struggled offensively for several years, while still showcasing his tremendous defensive abilities that place him among the best defenders in the game, if not THE best. Currently, Kiermaier is dealing with back spasms that forced him to be removed from Wednesday’s contest.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Over 92 plate appearances this season, Kiermaier has hit .225/.326/.313 without a home run through 28 games. Although his slugging is down, Kiermaier still registers a 85 wRC+, which is an improvement over the past few seasons.

While Kiermaier is still providing the amount of production that is expected of him, Phillips can be expected to provide similar numbers at a fraction of the cost. The Rays signed Kiermaier to a seven year contract extension prior to the 2017 season that could max out at $66.15M. Several seasons in, Kiermaier was set to make $10M in 2020, with $11.5M in 2021, and then $12M in 2022 with a team option for $13M in 2023. Compared to the league minimum that Brett Phillips is making, and with the ongoing austerity in baseball, shedding Kiermaier’s contract becomes a lot more alluring for this team’s ownership.

Does this spell an end for Kiermaier’s time in Tampa Bay? Maybe, but it could also just as easily signal insurance against a trip to the Injured List once again for ‘The Outlaw’.

The Rays were willing to give up one of their top prospects, albeit one that was behind several other top infield prospects, to acquire Phillips. They did thi, despite having several options for depth in their own system with the likes of Josh Lowe, Brian O’Grady, and Randy Arozarena toiling away at the team’s alternate training site.

With no real use for 40-man rostered Lucius Fox on this Rays team in the forseeable future, maybe at the end of the day this is just the defense oriented Rays picking up an elite defender when one is available.

Phillips is a plus-plus defender overall, but he might just be an outfield version of Mike Brosseau. That’s not a problem when you’re looking to compete in any scenario, but given Phillips chops in center field, it’s reasonable to wonder if its a signal of something more to come.

Poll

What do you think the Brett Phillips trade means?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    The Rays are going to trade Kiermaier this weekend
    (82 votes)
  • 37%
    The Rays are going to trade Kiermaier this off season
    (161 votes)
  • 25%
    The Rays wanted Kiermaier insurance on the bench
    (111 votes)
  • 18%
    The Rays are just looking to assemble the best defense possible
    (80 votes)
434 votes total Vote Now

Previously: Rays acquire OF Brett Phillips, trade SS Lucius Fox to Royals

You can find all our 2020 trade deadline coverage here.