ST. PETERSBURG — Brett Phillips went out with love in his heart and a smile on his face.
The Rays on Monday parted ways with the affable outfielder, a Seminole native and fan favorite, after acquiring Jose Siri from Houston in what they consider a potentially significant upgrade in centerfield.
Barely an hour after the Rays announced that Phillips had been designated for assignment, he posted a video on his Twitter account along with the message, “Nothing but love @RaysBaseball.”
He said it was “an absolute pleasure and honor” to play for his hometown team, the move “sucks, but we all know business is business,” and he appreciated the support during his parts of three seasons with the Rays. He ended the video by urging fans to continue to support the franchise and grow the fan base.
“We’ve had,” he said, “a heck of a time.”
The Rays see Siri, 27, as a potential two-way superstar, already ranking as an elite defender and growing into an offensive profile as a right-handed hitter with speed and immense power.
“The physical abilities are pretty spectacular on both sides of the ball — it’s premium-premium tools,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “Starting where he is right now defensively, we have him as good a centerfielder as there is in the game, if not the very best. … And then, offensively, a bit of a late bloomer. … I think he’s continuing to find himself at the plate.”
The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder hit .304 with four homers, nine RBIs and a .956 OPS in an impressive 21-game debut last September but just .178-3-10-.542 in 48 games this season. two stints with the Astros. He was playing with Triple-A Sugar Land when the trade happened. “Probably realistically, the answer is somewhere in the middle of that,” Neander said.
The Rays paid a somewhat heavy price, trading promising pitching prospects Seth Johnson (who is undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery this week) and Jayden Murray in what was a three-way deal that also featured Trey Mancini going from Baltimore to Houston. Johnson was sent to the Orioles, Murray to the Astros. (Baltimore also received pitching prospect Chayce McDermott from Houston.)
Phillips, 28, is also an elite defender who has struggled offensively. He is hitting .147 (lowest in the majors, minimum 150 at-bats) with five homers, 14 RBIs and a .514 OPS in 75 games, striking out nearly half the time. He did, though, deliver one of the franchise’s highlight moments, the hit that led to the wild walkoff win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series.
Phillips provided more in other ways, generating energy, enthusiasm and a positive atmosphere for his teammates, sharing the immense joy with which he plays the game and forging a deep connection to the fans and community.
“From just purely an evaluation of the talent and the contributions and that part, it’s a tough call,” Neander said. “But certainly we all know ‘Philly’s’ impact extended beyond just that.”
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Phillips’ biggest on-field moment came during the 2020 World Series game, followed by his airplane run through the outfield and breathless network TV interview, when he uttered the phrase he turned into a popular T-shirt line: “Baseball is fun.”
He also made highlight reels with his acrobatic defense, entertaining work on the mound as an occasional pitcher and humorous interviews. Saturday, Phillips was in the spotlight as the team gave out Devil Rays basketball jerseys with his name and number, modeled after the one he wore on his 4th birthday.
He also was involved in one of this season’s most poignant moments, hitting a home run in honor of Chloe Grimes, an 8-year-old girl battling cancer who had thrown out the first pitch for the April 12 game and considered him her favorite player. .
“This is a game. It’s a source of entertainment. It should be enjoyed,” Neander said. “He makes it fun and always has. His approach to this, and just how he appreciates it, it’s special. It’s rare. And it’s a wonderful perspective to have around.
“So, certainly all that he is, and the way that he connects with fans, with the community, with our organization, that’s special. And nothing we’ll ever take for granted and appreciate every bit of it.”
In dropping Phillips, the Rays, who made two other small trades Monday in advance of Tuesday’s 6 pm trade deadline, opted to keep Roman Quinn. The switch-hitter, signed during the All-Star break, is hitting .263 in nine games with an .807 OPS.
The Rays hope to be appreciating Siri, who spent seven years in the Reds’ minor-league system, refining his skills and maturing from what politely was called an excitable stage for a while, planning to give him the opportunity (likely starting Tuesday night) to be the everyday centerfielder.
An added benefit of the deal is that Siri is under the team’s control for five more seasons and not eligible for salary arbitration until 2025.
“The potential reward of that is pretty big for us not only from the contributions that we can get from him,” Neander said, “but just kind of the flexibility that will allow for the rest of the roster and certainly financially in that.” respect
“But this is really just about the talent, the chance to hit on some meaningful upside, and someone we have a chance to keep around for a while if that all comes through. And we think he’s got a shot for that to be the case.”
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