Guest Spot: MTD weighs in on the Phillips Extension

Walt Jocketty is 1/8 Mayan. Did you know that? I didn’t either until he started handing out massive contracts over the past week. With the end of the world looming later this year, the Reds general manager extended Joey Votto for 10 years and $225 million and came to a six-year agreement with Brandon Phillips on Tuesday.

Six years and $72.5 million is an awful lot of time and money to give to a 30-year-old second baseman whose defensive metrics are all over the place. UZR/150 likes him as an above average to excellent defender. FRAA sees him as an alternating version of terrible and good. That helps explain the wild variations from site to site when looking at his wins above replacement and, subsequently, his value.

With no real rooting interest in the Reds, I don’t have to share Mevs’ bright-eyed optimism about locking up one of “our guys.” Unless the Reds signed a cash cow of a radio deal with WKRP, they don’t have the big boy money to make mistakes. And signing veteran players to long term contracts is almost always a mistake.

So let’s press our luck and see if the Reds are going to come up with a Whammy or that deluxe cruise to 1978 San Juan. Phillips had his career year in 2011 according to a 6.0 fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement) and 4.1 bWAR (Baseball-Reference wins above replacement). His 3.3 WARP (wins above replacement player) was a tick behind his career high 3.4 in 2010.

Assuming a win is worth $5 million of the free agent market, Phillips would have to be worth ~12 wins over the course of the extension. Let’s call it 15 for the sake of inflation. The good news is that 30 second basemen have accumulated a 15 WAR or higher from their age 30 to 36 seasons. The bad news is that list is led by names like Joe Morgan, Nap Jajoie, Rogers Hornsby, Craig Biggio and Ryne Sandberg. Chase Utley comes in at 30 on that list and he was one of the most undervalued players in baseball for years.

For Phillips, the value will come down to how you measure him defensively. If you see him as an above average/plus defender at second, he should hit enough to make the contract and perhaps exceed the $72.5 million. If you see him as a replacement level defender who can’t last six years at second and can’t move to first base, well now things don’t look so hot.

I might be more in the latter camp than the former but I don’t have access to Field/FX data nor am I John Dewan. My initial reaction to this deal is that’s about where I’d have set the over/under on value. I wouldn’t give a 30-year-old a six year deal, or five for that matter, but Phillips has a much better chance to give the Reds their money back in value than Votto. He’s also pretty good at Twitter. Which is at least worth .03 wins.

M.J. Lloyd is the owner and creator of Off Base Percentage. He also writes for Halo Hangout and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter, @mnkysthrwndrts for more goodies.