The Reds, locking up another of their core players, have reached agreement on a six-year, $72.5 million contract with second baseman Brandon Phillips.
The deal will replace Phillips’ current one-year, $12.5 million contract, and extend from 2012 to ’17.
The sixth guaranteed year was important to Phillips, who turns 31 on June 28. He will become the first second baseman to earn at least $12 million at age 36. Middle infielders in their mid-30s generally do not command multiyear deals.
The Reds, by back-loading first baseman Joey Votto’s 10-year, $225 million extension, left themselves the flexibility to sign Phillips. Votto will earn $9.5 million and $17 million in the final two years of his current deal, then $12 million in 2014 and $15 million in ’15.
Phillips, meanwhile, accepted less than the Rangers gave second baseman Ian Kinsler, who reached agreement Monday on a five-year, $75 million extension — a deal that likely will grow to six years and $80 million if Texas exercises a club option for a sixth year.
Kinsler, who turns 30 on June 22, has played in two World Series and is a more productive hitter than Phillips, who nonetheless won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the National League last season.
Phillips, an immensely popular player in Cincinnati, also knew that he needed to accept a lesser contract to remain with the Reds.
Now they’re all-in for a run of playoff appearances.
”This puts us in a pretty good position to build around two premier players on the everyday side, and with some of the pitchers we have to be a contending club for years to come, hopefully,” general manager Walt Jocketty said. ”It’s not easy. A lot of things have to go right for you.
”But we’re getting deeper and deeper in talent. That’s what it’s going to take in a small market.”
Phillips’ deal is the last major one for a while. It’s been in the works since last year.
The Reds couldn’t agree on the length of a new deal with Phillips, so they exercised the 2012 option on his old contract. They remained at odds until the Reds agreed to a longer deal.
”We originally had a certain number of years in mind that we were going to do the deal,” Jocketty said. ”Then we realized that we’d probably have to extend another year, and that’s what we did. We went another year on the contract. We were able to get the deal done rather quick after that.”
The Reds have gone on a spending spree to try to turn themselves into an annual contender. They gave right fielder Jay Bruce a $51 million, six-year deal after the 2010 season, when the Reds won the NL Central and got swept by Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Since then, they’ve also given left-hander Aroldis Chapman a $20.25 million, six-year contract, Johnny Cueto a $27 million, four-year deal, and left-hander Sean Marshall a $16.5 million, three-year agreement.
Owner Bob Castellini concluded the only way to make the Reds a consistent contender is to spend to keep the team together rather than losing players through free agency.
”You do that to build a franchise and a foundation for years to come,” Castellini said. ”So I don’t anticipate to continue to have all these huge contracts. But you build your franchise on the people that are in that dugout and on that field.”
Phillips blossomed in Cincinnati, which got him from Cleveland for right-hander Jeff Stevens at the start of the 2006 season. Phillips made it clear he wanted to stay in Cincinnati and began negotiating a new deal last season.
When the club gave in, the deal was struck. Phillips would become the first 36-year-old second baseman to make $12 million or more.
Phillips was so thrilled that he had to keep himself from crying at a news conference to announce the deal. He said he had implored his agents to find a way to keep him in Cincinnati.
”I cried about this. This is where I wanted to be,” Phillips said. ”I’m still … you know … loss of words right now, for me to play in the city I really love. The fans have embraced me and they love me and I love them back.”
Phillips is one of the team’s most popular players. His following grew quickly after he started a Twitter account last year, regularly engaging fans. He’s also a regular on the team’s annual winter caravan bus trips to outlying cities, staying to sign autographs for as long as needed.
”Brandon is one of the great second basemen in baseball,” Castellini said. ”He’s also fantastic off the field, represents this franchise with a big smile all the time. He really relates to the fans, and vice versa.”
Manager Dusty Baker thinks a small-market club — Cincinnati’s payroll of $82.2 million ranks 17th in the majors — can afford what the Reds are trying to do.
”Hopefully, the size of the market won’t matter,” Baker said. ”Hopefully, we’ll win a lot of games and draw fans. (Owners) are depending on the fans to offset these commitments. Evidently, they’re not afraid of commitment. Those are some big commitments.”
Phillips got his new deal a day after he left a 7-1 loss to St. Louis because of a cramp in his left hamstring. Baker said Phillips probably will need a few days to recover.
”You don’t want it to become something that bothers him all year, especially with him batting leadoff and with how acrobatic he has to be in the field,” Baker said. ”I think (he needs) at least three or four days. He may not like it, but this isn’t the time to be a hero. If it was August or September, it would be a different story.”