Approach on Phillips was flawed
By Terry Pluto
It is still too early to know if the Indians made a major mistake, or just a minor one, with Brandon Phillips.
Either way, their approach was flawed.
At the end of spring training, the Tribe traded Phillips to the Cincinnati Reds for the famed ``Player To Be Named.'' It could end up just being cash. Phillips responded by claiming the starting second-base job for the Reds and is hitting .372 with three homers and 17 RBI.
Phillips eventually will cool off, but there are several people in the Tribe front office who privately believed up to the day that he was traded that he still was going to have a solid major-league career.
Yet, the Indians received virtually nothing for him.
So what happened with the Indians and Phillips?
He was reputed to be the top prospect acquired in the Bartolo Colon deal with the Montreal Expos in 2002 and was the Tribe's Opening Day second baseman in 2003. He was 21 when that season began and batted only .208 in 112 games.
The rebuilding Indians probably rushed him. They were desperate to find players and knew that Phillips was such a gifted athlete that he had been offered a basketball scholarship by the University of Georgia. They hoped that he could make a quick adjustment to the majors. He wasn't ready.
Phillips started at Triple-A Buffalo in 2004 and never again was able to break into the Tribe lineup. Some of the fault belonged to Phillips, some to the fact that the Indians had better players in front of him.
There was veteran Omar Vizquel at shortstop, then Jhonny Peralta became an emerging star. Veteran Ronnie Belliard was signed to play second base.
In 2003, Phillips hit .175 in 154 at-bats at Buffalo. In 2004, he was a .303 hitter at Buffalo. Last year, it was .256. He probably thought that he had been in Buffalo long enough to be mayor.
He might have believed that the Indians had lost some faith in him. He could be right.
He really did need a fresh start with another team.
This spring, Phillips was out of minor-league options. He either had to make the team or be placed on waivers for $20,000. The Indians knew someone would claim him.
Manager Eric Wedge didn't think that Phillips was suited to being a guy who plays only once a week, sometimes less. He believed that Ramon Vazquez would ``be a better fit.''
Vazquez is 29. He has been a career .258 hitter in parts of four major-league seasons with three teams. He's happy to wait his turn on the bench. It's a safe guess that no matter what Phillips did this spring, Wedge wanted to keep Vazquez because of doubts how Phillips would handle not playing.
Phillips batted .316 in the spring, Vazquez .235. The Indians seemed to be hanging on to Phillips in case Belliard or Peralta would have got hurt. The logic was this: If we need a starter, it's Phillips. If we need a bench guy, it's Vazquez.
That says the front office clearly thought that Phillips was the superior talent.
When Peralta and Belliard both stayed healthy, the Indians virtually were forced to give away Phillips. They kept Vazquez, a player who probably would get through waivers without being claimed. A guess is this was the front office bowing to the wishes of the manager, although no one has said as much.
The Tribe would have been wiser to deal Phillips last season -- when it became obvious that he had fallen out of favor. Remember when they called him up for three weeks in July? He was 0-for-9 and supposedly was working with batting coach Derek Shelton. In September when rosters were expanded, Phillips was not promoted.
With future star Grady Sizemore in center and 18-game winner Cliff Lee in the rotation, the Indians still received tremendous value for Colon. They now have nothing to show for Phillips. For that, they have only themselves to blame.