By Ray Glier
I sat behind home plate with James Phillips last summer when the Reds were in Atlanta. His son, Brandon, played second base for the Reds. Brandon was out on the diamond on Turner Field “jazzing” it up, as father likes to say. There was a delay of game and Brandon toed the rubber as if to throw a pitch. He was laughing, joking, and behaving like a kid.
“He’s just what the Braves need,” I told James. “The Braves are too casual, too stiff, too blah.”
Would he like to come play for the Braves, I asked his father.
“You kidding?” James said. His son is a Gold Glove fielder who can still hit (.291 in 2016).
So I went up to the press box dining hall and walking to the ice cream machine was John Coppollela, the GM.
“Coppy, Brandon’s dad said he would love to play for the Braves,” I said.
“We would love for him to play for us, too,” Coppy said. “I’d love to make that happen.”
It happened Sunday. The Braves traded for a hot dog. I thought they would have to add a year to Phillips’ deal to get him to wave the no-trade clause, but they didn’t. The Braves will honor the no-trade clause to 12 teams that was part of his deal with the Reds.
I saw the Braves as too unemotional, kind of flat, especially in the infield before shortstop Dansby Swanson arrived. Freddie Freeman is a very good player, but there is not a lot of juice with him. Third baseman Adonis Garcia didn’t say much and second baseman Jace Peterson was solid and just trying to stick. Shortstop was a revolving door until Swanson showed up and he added some enthusiasm with his play.
Phillips will really add some life. He needles. He talks to the other team. He dives and slides, and smiles. Phillips fits right in with the opening of a new ballpark. He will make the thrilling play.
The fact Phillips, 35, played right here at Redan High School in south DeKalb makes it even more electric.
The trade probably wouldn’t have happened if projected second baseman Sean Rodriguez had not been injured in a car accident the end of January. Second base prospect Ozzie Albies suffered a fractured elbow last September and his development was going to be delayed.
The Braves tried to trade for Phillips in November when they went into a clear rebuild mode. That they are paying $13 million of his $14 million (according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and gave up just two minor league fringe prospects makes it a great deal for Atlanta.
The Braves can go left-right-left-right-left-right through the first six places in the lineup with Phillips sixth. This is a deeper lineup, no doubt.
And what of Jace Peterson? Brian Jordan, the Braves announcer, and I, thought Jace should have been handed the second base job last April and allowed to play through the yips of being a young starter. Peterson will still have a role with the Braves as a back-up centerfielder, a sometime left-fielder, and a second baseman. He is a good player and if Phillips has lost some of that jazz, Peterson will be ready.