When the Atlanta Braves opted to option Dansby Swanson to AAA Gwinnett last week, it seemingly cleared up a crowded infield situation for the Atlanta Braves. Swanson was in the midst of a year-long slump, and manager Brian Snitker had decided to give the majority of the shortstop starts to fellow rookie Johan Camargo. With Swanson moving on to everyday at-bats in Gwinnett, the infield situation seemed to be clearing itself up.
And then the Braves promoted Ozzie Albies.
Albies arrived in Atlanta as a two-time Top 100 prospect, regardless of which prospect publication you prefer. Unlike the last couple weeks of Swanson’s 2017 season in Atlanta, Albies was not coming up to be a part-time player.
Which shifts our focus to Atlanta’s other second baseman, Brandon Phillips. Despite turning 36 this year, Phillips has yet to show signs of his age. His slash line of .292/.335/.436 and his 101 wRC+ are as good of numbers as we’ve seen from Phillips since his 5.4 fWAR season of 2011. On a bad team, this guy is too good to be sitting the bench. So if you aren’t going to use him, why not trade him?
Trading Phillips is tricky. In 2012, Phillips signed a $72.5M contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds, which included limited no-trade protection (allowing Phillips to block deals to 12 teams). Phillips’ list of 12 teams is currently unknown, so it is entirely possible the Braves worked a deal to trade Phillips and he ultimately shot it down. After all, Phillips is from nearby Stone Mountain, GA, and he’s made it very clear he’s happy to be back near home. Having said that, there are no reports at this time of Phillips blocking any trades. It could just be that there isn’t a huge need for second basemen among playoff contending teams right now.
With Phillips in Atlanta, the optimal Atlanta lineup does not include him on the bench. The Braves could easily shift Albies to shortstop (he made 215 appearances at shortstop in his minor league career, with 166 appearances at second base). The only reason Albies was moved off of shortstop last year was to accommodate the organization’s addition of Swanson. Albies was regarded as a strong defender at shortstop, but Swanson was considered even better.
With Albies and Phillips up the middle, Snitker could mix and match the rest of the field how he pleases. Camargo has been a pleasant surprise, and Atlanta could give him the majority of the reps at third base for the time being. This would allow Freddie Freeman to move back to his natural position at first base. And although Matt Adams has turned out to be a great move by GM John Coppolella, he has started to cool off in recent weeks (.225/.273/.350 since July 17). Snitker said he plans to use Adams in left field going forward, but the outfield transition was one he struggled in with St. Louis earlier this year. Snitker could attempt to use somewhat of a platoon situation with Adams in left field and Camargo at third versus right-handed pitching, (or to take it a step further, use them in these positions when the Braves have more of a ground ball pitcher on the mound, where Adams’ shortcomings in left field may not be as glaring as expected) and then possibly play Sean Rodriguez in left field versus left-handed pitching.
In the long run, the best thing for the Braves would be finding a trade partner for Brandon Phillips. He’s not under contract for the 2018 season and Ozzie Albies appears to be the second baseman of the future. But until they can find a trade partner, the best Atlanta infield includes both Brandon Phillips and Ozzie Albies.