Phillips, who will turn 37 on Thursday, split 144 games between the Altanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels last season, posting a .255/.269/.382 battling line, along with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs. He became a free agent following the 2017 season and surprisingly drew minimal interest in free agency. He remained unsigned until landing the Red Sox deal.
According to Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski, Phillips will initially report to the team’s spring training facility in Florida to get himself in playing shape. Once the team feels he’s prepared, the plan is for Phillips to report to Triple-A Pawtucket. From there, it will be up to Phillips to prove he’s ready to contribute. Then it will be up to Dombrowski and Red Sox manager Alex Cora to figure out where he fits.
Right now, there’s no clear answer to that question. But it could become clear once the Red Sox answer a few other key questions.
The Dustin Pedroia conundrum
The obvious assumption is that Phillips signing means the Red Sox aren’t planning on Dustin Pedroia contributing much, if at all, this season. Boston’s stalwart second baseman has missed nearly the entire season following offseason knee surgery. He made a brief return in late May, but instilled little confidence about his health after returning to the disabled list three days later.
If Pedroia can’t return, then Phillips could slide into a defined role. He’s manned second base for the majority of his 16-year career. He won five Gold Glove awards there during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. The most recent came in 2013, making it clear his best days there are far behind him. Still, his experience at the position would make him an obvious fit if Pedroia’s out and Boston decides the combination of Eduardo Nunez, Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin won’t cut it.
Can Brandon Phillips handle a utility role?
Based on Dombrowski’s comments Wednesday, the Red Sox want Phillips prepared to play multiple positions.
A little more on Brandon Phillips:
Dave Dombrowksi says he will play 2B, 3B and take some grounders at 1B. "Numerous" opt-outs start in mid-July if not in the majors.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) June 27, 2018
Second base has been Phillips home, but he was willing to try third base with the Braves last season. He appeared in 25 games at the hot corner. Those marked his first games at a position other than second base during his entire career, save for a handful of one-game cameos at shortstop.
Phillips looked comfortable at third base, handling 45 chances without an error. That bodes well for ability to move around. With the Red Sox getting little consistency from both corner infield spots and second base, he could walk into a lot of playing time.
How bad does Brandon Phillips want it?
Soon to be 37, it’s possible, if not likely, that this will be Phillips last chance to play for a contender. He’ll have to not only prove he can still play at a high level and contribute, but he’ll likely have to prove he’s willing to be something other than what he been all along.
That’s not always easy for a veteran with Phillips’ past success, but if he wants a shot to add a World Series ring to his resume, it might be the role he’ll have to accept in Boston.
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