Thursday, July 31, 2014
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On Domonic Brown

The most fascinating thing about the public referendum on Domonic Brown is that we have no idea if this same debate is taking place within the walls that matter, the room where Ruben Amaro Jr. and his lieutenants are assessing the Phillies needs in the current trade market.

On Domonic Brown

Domonic Brown is hitting .251 with five home runs and 18 RBI in 52 games this season. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Domonic Brown is hitting .251 with five home runs and 18 RBI in 52 games this season. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

The most fascinating thing about the public referendum on Domonic Brown is that we have no idea if this same debate is taking place within the walls that matter, the room where Ruben Amaro Jr. and his lieutenants are assessing the Phillies needs in the current trade market.

There are indications the Phillies have considered trading Brown. Teams are definitely asking for him. They were certainly not willing to deal Brown for a rental player like Carlos Beltran, and few would disagree with that choice. They could be willing to move Brown for a young, controllable outfielder like Hunter Pence or Carlos Quentin. Or maybe they aren't. Maybe they haven't decided. Maybe it's not even a factor.

Still, the current debate has just about divided a fan base (from what I can tell). The Trade Brown! camp has made its voice clear: He has yet to prove anything. He is a liability in the field. He hasn't hit for power. He's taking up a spot that's needed for a righthanded bat.

The Keep Brown! people stress patience. He is 23 years old. He was the only untouchable in a deal for the best pitcher in baseball, so why trade him now? This lineup is the oldest in baseball and the last thing the Phillies should do is trade their youngest regular. He has shown flashes of greatness, albeit only flashes.

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Really, everything centers around this principle: Are the Phillies willing to live with the inconsistency of a 23-year-old rookie in a pennant race because of the great upside that lies ahead?

If you follow me on Twitter (@magelb), you'll know that I fall squarely in the Keep Brown! team. Truthfully, my answer to the current issue lies in the middle. Yes, the Phillies should keep Brown, but they should acquire a bat not in the ilk of Pence or Quentin. Instead, with the best and perfereable option already off the market in Carlos Beltran, the Phillies should now focus on acquiring a righthanded complement to both Brown and Raul Ibanez. More in the Reed Johnson, Ryan Ludwick, Josh Willingham mold. They provide stability and a minor upgrade -- all that is currently needed.

Hunter Pence is a really nice player. He is. But his strikeouts are up. His walk rate is painfully low. He has two fewer home runs than Ibanez. His batting average on balls in play is a staggering .367, which means luck has greatly contributed to a .307 batting average.

Carlos Quentin is attractive, too. He is slugging .510 and that would instantly be the second best on these Phillies, behind only Shane Victorino. His on-base percentage is fueled by 20 hit by pitches and his walk rate isn't spectacular, but acceptable. His .913 OPS against lefthanded pitching is enticing.

Brown is five years younger than both Pence and Quentin. Those two are indisputably better players currently than Brown. They would cost a great deal to acquire, but their instant value would be important.

But Brown's upside is beyond Pence and Quentin. They are entering their prime at 28, and both have impressive numbers. They are not stars. Brown can be a star.

Domonic Brown has played 87 games in the majors. Eighty-seven. That is no sample size to make judgments about the future. If anything, those 87 games have shown the great promise of Brown. (By the way, some guy named Mike Schmidt once hit .197 with a .690 OPS in his first 145 games. He turned out OK.)

From last season to this, Brown has already improve his plate discipline. He leads the team with 4.08 pitches per plate appearance. He is walking 12.4 percent of the time, a greater rate than Pence or Quentin have ever had -- in the majors or minors.

Why do walks matter? Well, for one, it means Brown is on base. His OBP has improved nearly 90 points from his brief time last season. He is not chasing as many balls as before. He is waiting for his pitch, which is a great predicate of success. Charlie Manuel will often say good hitting can only happen when you have a good ball to hit. Sounds silly, but it's not so easy. The tendency is for younger players to chase more, to force success out of a pitch that will not create it.

And no, Brown is not hitting for power yet. Manuel was asked Wednesday about Brown's approach at the plate and he commended his patience. Then, he noted, that Brown seems to be fouling off a lot of those pitches to hit.

Here's another thing to remember: Phillies executives said Brown's power would be the last thing to develop. It typically is with most prospects. But then Brown fractured the hamate bone in his right hand and missed most of spring training. Hand and wrist injuries will sap power, and while players can return within weeks of the injury, power is said to fully regenerate later.

The criticism of Brown's fielding reached a fever pitch Wednesday when he misplayed a ball that led to San Francisco's second and decisive run. There is no disputing Brown's shortcomings in right field. But there is no question that his athleticism, with time and instruction, cannot make him into at least an average fielder. (Advanced defensive metrics rate Quentin below average, and in recent years, among the worst outfielders in the majors. Pence is above average.) 

The worst argument to trading Brown I've heard is that the Phillies' window is closing and they must win now. For sure, they have to win now. They invested $175 million in this team and that is why they should seek to improve at the trade deadline.

But trading Brown only negatively affects the proverbial window. If you deal him for another outfielder like Pence or Quentin, you still need to acquire another corner outfielder this winter once Ibanez leaves. Now you're paying your right fielder upwards of $9 or $10 million instead of the $450,000 Brown will make in 2012. And left field is still vacant. On top of contractual issues with Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson and expanding salaries for current signed players, it doesn't all fit. That's how your window collapses.

Then people will say, "You can't win a World Series with a rookie or young player in a crucial position." Well, there was Buster Posey in 2010. And Melky Cabrera in 2009, Cole Hamels in 2008, Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007, Yadier Molina in 2006, Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis in 2003, Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 and the list goes on and on.

Domonic Brown bats seventh and plays right field. The Phillies will not win or lose a World Series because of him.

Can they add a righthanded bat to platoon in left and right field and hope he catches fire a la Cody Ross? Sure. Can they fortify the bullpen with a veteran arm? Sure.

None of that involves trading Domonic Brown, which at this point, is an unnecessary and reactionary move. And for all we know, the Phillies agree.


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