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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Brett Phillips

On his first day on the job, Phillips said, “I’m looking to win a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles.”

Baltimore Orioles v Texas Rangers
An occasional Twitter hashtag from a decade or so ago: #BootyHadMeLike
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

NOTE: Phillips was designated for assignment by the Orioles on 8/19/22 and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.

How he arrived: Acquired from the Rays for cash considerations 8/2/22; had been designated for assignment by Rays 8/1

Who left: Trey Mancini traded to Astros in three-team deal also involving Rays, 8/1/22

Early in the 2000s, then-Ravens coach Brian Billick delivered one of the great quotes in Baltimore sports history when, following a huge road playoff win, he said, “When you go in the lion’s den, you don’t tippy-toe in. You carry a spear, you go in screaming like a banshee, you kick whatever doors in, and say, ‘Where’s the son of a bitch?’”

This quote comes back to me every time there is an underdog Orioles team as well, because its spirit always applies. Essential to triumphing over some team you’re not supposed to beat is the audacious belief that you can do it - that there’s nothing this stronger-on-paper team has that you don’t have too, or at least that you can’t overcome.

What this has to do with the most recent Oriole Brett Phillips is very simple. In his first day on the job on Wednesday, in his first time ever speaking to members of the Orioles media as an Oriole, said, “I’m here, and I’m looking to win a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles. That would be freaking awesome.”

When the Orioles picked Phillips up from the Rays in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline, my first reaction was to scratch my head in confusion. Here is a player whose career batting stats don’t seem to offer much to the Orioles that they don’t already have. He’s a career .189/.275/.349 hitter, and was performing worse than this in the 2022 season. That’s why the Rays designated him for assignment after they acquired a different poor-hitting outfielder, Jose Siri, in the three-team Mancini deal. In bWAR, Phillips was a negative for this season.

The Orioles already had Ryan McKenna sitting around as the fourth outfielder, a role for which he seems to be suited well. At first I thought, maybe they’d send McKenna down when Phillips arrived, but no. At least for now, these two players are coexisting on the roster.

The lefty-batting Phillips offers the opposite platoon split from the righty McKenna, so that’s something. Yet it does not seem like very efficient roster use if you have two different fourth outfielder platoon options. I am also concerned about the opportunity cost of the roster spot. There are minor league players who the team needs to evaluate at the MLB level eventually. As a bench player, perhaps Phillips isn’t actually costing them much in this way. But if you’d asked me before the trade deadline, I’d have rather seen Kyle Stowers up here.

One part of the explanation is surely that Phillips was an Elias-drafted guy. The Astros picked him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, the same one where Houston famously surprised people by picking Carlos Correa at #1 overall. Phillips was traded before ever playing an MLB game before the Astros, but I’m sure Elias knows what he’s getting. He offered his view in remarks on Wednesday:

His reputation around the league is certainly well-known as a wonderful teammate and clubhouse guy, but we brought him in for his defensive profile, his left-handed bat, and his plus speed ... It’s more of like an outfield utility player who I think Brandon’s going to be able to plug him into spots where he can impact the game, because he’s got some tools that, when deployed at the right place in the right time, can make him an impact player.

The very first sentence of the MLB article I linked near the beginning described Phillips’s “infectious personality,” and that’s on display if you watch the video, where it seems he never stops smiling. Imagine that: A guy’s been traded to the Orioles and he can’t stop smiling! We don’t see that every day. Roch Kubatko’s post quoted right above here uses similar phrasing for Phillips: “He never seems to have a bad day. The smile never leaves his face.”

It’s easy for fans to discount the value of things like having a “good clubhouse guy” around in the mix. In baseball media there’s often a lot of after-the-fact justification offered about players who aren’t any good. Phillips certainly seems like one of these guys. Sometimes it’s a load of nonsense and sometimes they really do offer something invisible to the public eye.

On the MASN broadcast on Tuesday night, Melanie Newman described one way Phillips makes an impact: He just goes around, attaching himself to players and deciding they’re friends now. It sounded endearing rather than annoying.

For the 2022 season, Phillips, 28, has a $1.4 million salary. He has two more years of team control remaining after this, if the team wants to take them. A poor-hitting reserve is not going to get a huge arbitration raise, so he won’t be a huge expense. If they think he’s doing positive things behind the scenes and occasionally on the field, the Orioles will probably decide to keep him around beyond this year.

Time will tell us whether Phillips is in fact some kind of invisible “glue guy” or not. I am always skeptical of this. But also when you get down to it, I’m a sucker who wants to believe that my favorite baseball team, which has never won a World Series since I’ve been born, is going to win a World Series some day.

A guy who walks in the door of a team that lost 110 games last season talking about how he wants to win a World Series here? Like Billick said 21 years ago, you don’t tippy-toe in. The Orioles are heading into the lion’s den with the strength of schedule remaining over the last two months of the season.

Phillips’s career batting line says that we probably don’t want him being the one carrying the spear, but if he’s going around telling everyone else who’s never been a part of a winning team before that you know what, we can take that lion down... well, it certainly can’t hurt - especially as long as he never faces a left-handed pitcher. That would be freaking awesome.

Still to come: Yennier Canó