Notes: Reds acquire Phillips from Tribe
Second baseman joins crowded position; LaRue nears return
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- As they executed one trade on Friday, the Reds fueled speculation that another deal might be forthcoming.
Cincinnati acquired infielder Brandon Phillips from the Indians for either a Minor League player to be named or cash. Phillips, who was out of options, was designated for assignment last Saturday and Cleveland had to either trade him or risk losing its former top prospect on waivers.
Phillips will join the Reds on Sunday when a corresponding move that clears room on the 25-man roster is announced.
Perhaps fittingly, Phillips will be assigned uniform No. 4. That happens to be the number of second baseman the Reds now have as the 24-year-old joins Tony Womack, Ryan Freel and Rich Aurilia.
"It's going to be very interesting, I'd have to say," Freel said. "I've seen a lot of stuff in baseball happen. Just when you think you've seen it all. I know [general manager] Wayne [Krivsky] knows what he's doing. I'm sure there's some kind of theory behind what he's doing. He's been getting good people over here."
Krivsky was quick to point out that Phillips was not solely a second baseman.
"This guy played 111 games at shortstop last year," Krivsky said. "His talent level, his age and his ability to play two middle infield positions very well made him very attractive to us and somebody I wanted to be aggressive on ... I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity for a 24-year-old middle infielder that can play short and second."
With a surplus of middle infielders and a lack of pitching depth, it's easy to wonder if Womack, Freel or Aurilia would be moved next.
"It looks like that could be the road [Krivsky] goes down," Freel said. "With me and Tony switching and playing second base and Richie swinging the bat well, there are a lot of different things they could do. I don't like to think they'll make a trade. I hope to God they don't trade me. I want to end my career here as a Cincinnati Red, but I have no control over that."
If no infielders are moved this weekend, manager Jerry Narron will have quite a challenge on his hands finding everyone playing time. And he already thought it was tough keeping three second baseman sharp.
"I know it gives us too many guys at second, but it's a chance we're going to take," Narron said. "We'll do everything we can to make it work and try to get these pieces to fit."
Back in 2002, Phillips was deemed the biggest prize for the Indians in the trade that sent pitcher Bartolo Colon to the Expos. The other prospects Cleveland acquired in that deal were outfielder Grady Sizemore and lefty pitcher Cliff Lee.
Sizemore and Lee have since become key contributors for the Indians, while Phillips' luster has dimmed after his big-league debut in 2002. He was Cleveland's Opening Day second baseman in 2003, but he has spent a majority of the past three seasons at Triple-A.
A .206 career hitter in the Majors, Phillips batted .256 with 15 homers for Buffalo last season. Although defensively gifted, reports say he's prone to taking big swings for the seats and striking out too much (90 times last season with Buffalo). The Reds hope he'll alter his approach and become a contact hitter.
"I'd like to see him play the little man's game a little bit more, and use the whole field to hit and not be so conscious of hitting home runs," Krivsky said. "Whether that's the case or not, we'll find out."
Phillips, who has been working out at home in Georgia, also arrives with a track record of being difficult for coaches to work with. Krivsky was optimistic that tendency could also be corrected.
"He's got a little bit of a reputation," Krivsky said. "I think the fact that he hasn't played in 10 days and his whole career has been in limbo ... I think he would even tell you he was a little humbled by this. Sometimes it has a way of humbling you when you're out there and you don't have a home. You wonder where your career is going."
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Reds designated infielder Matt Kata for assignment. Kata was claimed off waivers from the Phillies on March 15.
One more decision? Not only could the Reds be loaded with four second baseman by Sunday, they could be packed with three catchers by Monday.
Injured catcher Jason LaRue's right knee passed another test Friday afternoon when he caught without pain during a 12-minute bullpen session for pitcher Dave Williams. It was the first time LaRue was able to squat and catch since having arthroscopic surgery March 27 to repair torn meniscus cartilage.
If LaRue has no pain or swelling Saturday, he'll catch in one more bullpen session and run the bases. Barring any setbacks, Reds head trainer Mark Mann said LaRue was on target to be activated from disabled list on Monday's off day before Cincinnati opens a three-game series at Chicago on Tuesday.
With catchers Javier Valentin and David Ross already on the roster, and Ross out of options, the Reds will have another tough decision to make. If they kept all three, Valentin could also be used as a lefty pinch-hitter off the bench.
McCracken update: Veteran outfielder Quinton McCracken, who missed the last couple of weeks of Spring Training with a sore right foot, played five innings in a game at the Reds' Minor League camp in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday. There was no word on when McCracken might be ready to join the big league club.
Coming up: In a short turnaround, the Reds and Pirates will meet again Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET. Aaron Harang is scheduled to make his second start for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh lefty Oliver Perez.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.