Put Domonic in the lineup

Posted: August 08, 2014

FORGET FOR a moment how you feel about the sets of tools that Domonic Brown brings to the table. Forget whether you think he has a future as a big-league regular. Forget all of the following points that I will grant to you:

* That Brown has had plenty of opportunities to establish himself as a mainstay in the Phillies' outfield.

* That the 1,415 major league plate appearances he had logged heading into last night represent more of a chance than has been afforded to plenty of baseball players who currently reside in oblivion.

* That his .248/.309/.415 career batting line is below-average for a corner outfielder, particularly one with Brown's defensive shortcomings.

* That his .229/.279/.337 batting line this season is one of the ugliest in the majors.

All of those points are granted. But forget them for the moment. Instead, focus on something that an old friend once said, and grant me his point.

Baseball is a funny game. It's history has seen plenty of players spend plenty of years as below-average hitters before suddenly breaking out. Heck, consider the guy who is starting in rightfield every day. At the end of Marlon Byrd's 28-year-old season, he had 1,454 major league plate appearances, 20 home runs and a .263/.327/.373 batting line. The next year, he hit .307/.355/.459 in 454 plate appearances for the Rangers. Since then, he has hit .285/.337/.450 while averaging 19 home runs every 162 games. Jose Bautista, Brandon Moss . . . you can run down virtually every major league roster and find a guy who, for whatever reason, took his sweet time before reaching his potential.

That's the key word: potential. This isn't an argument that Brown is destined to become the player the Phillies hoped he would be when he was rated among the Top 10 prospects in the game. It's an argument that, now that he is supposedly over his bout with tonsillitis, he should be starting, something he hasn't done since July 30. It's an argument that Brown has more potential to help the club in its relevant future than either Byrd or Grady Sizemore, who have seen the bulk of the reps in the outfield.

Sizemore will be a free agent after this season, so even if the Phillies decide that he belongs in their outfield in 2015, there is no guarantee that he will return. And if he does return, it will likely be due to the fact that the Phillies were willing to guarantee him more money than the rest of the marketplace. That doesn't mean Sizemore will be expensive when compared to other starting outfielders. But regardless of the price tag, if the Phillies are willing to pay it, and none of the other 29 teams are, does that mean that his 2-month audition here was worth anything? After all, this isn't a private workout. And even if Sizemore signs a 1-year contract at the major league minimum and hits 30 home runs, have the Phillies gained anything? Unless he can take the mound once every 5 days, chances are his comeback season will result in little more than a slightly lower draft pick in 2016. Maybe the Phillies can trade him for something valuable at the deadline, but you saw how that worked out this year. Otherwise, he reaches free agency again, and the Phillies again have to pay market rate, and they really aren't any closer to rebuilding a roster that they somehow manage to make older every season.

Brown, on the other hand, is 26 years old, which is younger than Byrd and Moss and Bautista were when they finally found their grooves. The Phillies have three more seasons of control over him, during which they will be paying him a below-market rate, significantly so next season. If they had a legitimate chance to compete for the playoffs next season, it might make sense to turn the focus toward a veteran like Sizemore (although, again, he will be a free agent after this season, and there are plenty of teams besides the Phillies who wouldn't mind the Sizemore of old, if that is what he somehow shows himself to be over these next 2 months). But we are talking about a team that has one healthy starting pitcher under contract for next season.

Again, this isn't about Brown's imminent ascension. It's about logic, and if we grant that the Phillies will not compete in 2015, then keeping Brown on the bench is the height of illogic.

What's the worst that can happen by playing him every day for the rest of 2014 and bringing him back for few million bucks next season? He continues to struggle, and the Phillies stink. What's the best that can happen? He turns back into the player we saw for 6 weeks last summer, and the Phillies either have a cost-effective, middle-of-the-order hitter or a potential trade chip for whenever they finally decide that 2008's versions of 2014's players aren't walking through that door.

What's the worst that can happen by using Sizemore as the fourth outfielder? He signs with another team as a free agent after, turns into the Grady Sizemore of 5 years ago, and the Phillies lose 95 games instead of 90. And even if that happens, the Phillies still get a chance to bid for him as a free agent after 2015. Unless somebody signs Sizemore to a 2-year contract this offseason, nothing changes if he goes somewhere else and thrives next year. Nothing.

Now, all of this is true only if we accept the premise that the Phillies are not contenders next season. And maybe that's the real point of this whole exercise. Maybe this isn't really an argument about Domonic Brown and Grady Sizemore. Chances are none of it will have any impact on the Phillies' big-picture plan. Yet even saying that requires a big-picture plan to exist. And there, right there, is the point. Not Domonic Brown or Grady Sizemore or the lack of action at the trade deadline, but the totality of it: Three years later, the strategy for combatting this blue-seat-encircled oil slick still seems to involve a heavy amount of hope that it will clean itself up.

But hey, come get your Roy Halladay bobblehead.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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