Even as Brandon Phillips faces a possible loss of playing time, he still is not ready to leave Cincinnati.
The Reds’ second baseman used his no-trade protection in November to block a trade to the Braves, according to major-league sources.
The Braves tried to acquire Phillips at the same time they were in the process of signing free-agent infielder/outfielder Sean Rodriguez, who agreed to a two-year, $11.5 million contract on Nov. 24.
The addition of Rodriguez, who figures to play often at second base, cooled the Braves on Phillips; the trade, in theory, is still possible, but the talks are unlikely to revive, sources say.
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It was the third time in the past two offseasons that Phillips, 35, invoked his right to reject a trade as a player with 10 years of major-league service, five consecutively with the same team.
Last offseason, he blocked deals to the Nationals and Diamondbacks, then appeared in 141 games for the Reds, batting .291 with a .736 OPS, his highest since 2012. His defensive runs saved at second base, however, was a career-low negative-9.
The Reds, in the middle of rebuilding, could reduce the playing time of both Phillips and shortstop Zack Cozart in favor of two younger middle infielders, Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera. Both veterans are entering their free-agent years, but the Reds also have yet to find a taker for Cozart, who cannot block a trade.
Phillips will earn $14 million this season in the final year of his contract. The Reds would have paid a significant portion of that sum to facilitate a deal and were surprised by Phillips’ rejection, sources say; Phillips is from Stone Mountain, Ga., and owns a home in Atlanta.
Most players require some form of compensation to waive their no-trade rights, and Phillips reportedly sought an extension from the Nationals last offseason. The talks between the Reds and Braves did not advance to that level, sources say; the Braves viewed Phillips only as a one-year stopgap, and the Reds already were including money in the deal.
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For Phillips, though, the issue is not simply money, sources say.
He considers his refusal to accept a deal to be a matter of principle, and would want the team to address certain, unspecified issues before waiving his no-trade protection, sources say.
Phillips signed a six-year, $72.5 million extension with the Reds in April 2012 when he likely could have earned more as a free agent. At the club’s behest, he has been active in the Cincinnati community and become a fan favorite.
Yet, the relationship between Phillips and the club will only grow more uncomfortable if he continues balking at proposed trades.
The Reds could open the season with all four of their middle infielders, provided that each stays healthy. The team’s focus, however, is on 2018 and beyond.
Phillips as the everyday second baseman is not part of the club’s plan.