How committed are the Phillies to Brown as their future rightfielder? And are they willing to put his development on hold, or even let him continue it with another organization, after a tryout of less than 100 major league games?
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has declined to answer such trade-related questions for the last month, and he continued that silence yesterday after briefing reporters on the injury status of some of his veteran players.
"I'm not going to answer that," Amaro said when talk turned from injections of platelet-rich plasma to injections of talent.
Amaro has gone to great lengths this summer to ensure that the only substantial information about his intentions comes from sources outside the organization. From those sources, we know that the Phillies have made the acquisition of a righthanded hitter their No. 1 priority, with depth for their bullpen following closely behind. We know that they have investigated a deal for Mets slugger Carlos Beltran, but that they maintain their usual philosophy of targeting players whom they can control beyond the current season (Beltran will be a free agent this offseason). We know that they like the way Astros outfielder Hunter Pence fits into their lineup and, according to a FoxSports.com report yesterday, they have been one of the most aggressive pursuers of the 28-year-old, who is under contract through the 2013 season.
What we don't know is how they feel about Brown. When asked about the rookie before last night's game, Manuel said he thinks the 23-year-old can develop into a bona fide big-league star. But he later said that he has never considered any young player untouchable, mentioning superstars like Kirby Puckett and Jim Thome as examples.
"If the right deal comes along and you can get stronger, I'd do something," Manuel said.
He did not say if his definition of "stronger" included Pence, who is hitting .308 with a .355 on-base percentage and 11 home runs in his fifth big-league season.
Either way, Pence is not going to come cheap. And while the Phillies have a glut of pitching talent at high-A Clearwater, along with a blue-chip first base prospect in Jonathan Singleton, there is no telling whether some combination of the two, or even rookie righthander Vance Worley, would convince the Astros to trade one of their few marketable stars.
Brown is hitting .249 with a .338 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage, five home runs, 17 RBI and 26 runs in 51 games. In 86 career games, his numbers are .238/.317/.391 with seven home runs, 30 RBI, 34 runs and 54 strikeouts in 268 plate appearances.
But slow starts are nothing new for top prospects.
In Chase Utley's first 86 games in the majors, he hit .249 with a .304 on-base percentage, .418 slugging percentage, nine home runs, 39 strikeouts, 51 RBI and 30 runs in 298 plate appearances. He also faced some of the same defensive questions that Brown does. And he was 25 years old.
Whether the Phillies land Pence, bid aggressively for a rental player like Beltran, or attempt to bolster their offense with a less-well-rounded player like Josh Willingham or Reed Johnson remains to be seen. But their strategy will be dictated in part by their internal evaluation of Brown. And, much to the Phillies' delight, that is something we just do not know.