Problem solved. Johan Camargo – and Rio Ruiz, presumably – are free to play third base this month. Brandon Phillips, a career second baseman forced to up sticks to make room for Ozzie Albies, has upped sticks in a more macro way: He’s headed to Anaheim to play for a team that might make the playoffs. (Then again, the Angels play in a league where the same could be said for almost anybody.)
The Atlanta Braves didn’t get much in return for Phillips – journeyman catcher Tony Sanchez – but they were never going to get much. He’s 36. He’s on a walkaway contract. He plays a position (meaning second base, not third) at which most good teams are fortified. The only reason he wasn’t traded in July was because nobody really wanted him.
The Angels got him now because they’re trying to maximize a surprisingly good season. Note that they also traded for Justin (Former Brave) Upton on Thursday, and he might not be a walkaway. He’s owed $88 million over the next four seasons, but could opt out after this one. There’s a good chance he won’t, though, which would leave the Angels with another massive contract to stack alongside those of Albert Pujols, who’s not worth the money, and Mike Trout, who is.
The Braves, it must be said, received good on-field value for Phillips. They paid $1 million of his $14 million salary – Cincinnati ate the rest – and got a Baseball-Reference WAR value of 1.1. (On the free-agent market, teams are routinely paying upwards of $8 million for 1.0’s worth of WAR.) He didn’t block anybody’s career path. When Albies was deemed big-league-ready, Phillips shifted to third. Now that Camargo/Ruiz/Adonis Garcia are about to be added to the roster, he’s gone altogether.
This might sound like a small thing, but it’s not. The Braves want to keep Albies and Dansby Swanson as their up-the-middle infielders in the season’s final month. They also want to see what Camargo and Ruiz can do, and there’s potential for a third-base platoon. (Ruiz is a lefty hitter. Camargo is a switch hitter who has hit better against lefties over his brief time in the bigs.) Garcia is a lesser concern; he’s apt to be non-tendered this fall.
As Brian Snitker has noted, the Braves were desperate last year for anybody who could play the infield. This year they wound up with a surplus. Phillips was acquired because Sean Rodriguez was hurt. Matt Adams arrived because Freddie Freeman was hurt. Carmargo was promoted after Garcia was hurt. Camargo became a starter because he hit and Swanson didn’t. Freeman briefly became a third baseman because Adams was making like Boog Powell. Swanson got recalled because Camargo was hurt.
It meant for a slew of moving parts and ultimately too many bodies. That is being corrected. Rodriguez was traded to Pittsburgh after playing 15 games. Phillips now works in the American League West. Garcia will be gone soon. Adams could be, too. (It’ll be tough for the Braves to go to arbitration with a player who only plays the position manned by the franchise cornerstone.)
Come opening day in 2018, the Braves stand to have three-fourths of what they’ve long envisioned – an infield of Freeman, Albies and Swanson – plus Camargo/Ruiz/somebody at third base. (Austin Riley is in Double-A, meaning he’s not yet ready.) We don’t yet know if Albies and Swanson will be as good as advertised, but the Braves hold out great hope for both. For as fitful as this season has been, infield-wise, matters have begun to stabilize.