Baseball / Sports

How long can the Phillies wait for Domonic Brown?

PHILADELPHIA -- The implications were clear when the Phillies signed talented but troubled outfielder Grady Sizemore to a minor-league contract last week. Sizemore, 31, has played in 156 games over the last five seasons. His comeback with Boston, a team desperate for outfield fortifications, resulted in his release after two months.

"Well," Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "I'd like to have more production in the outfield. It's pretty simple."

Should Sizemore demonstrate competency at triple-A Lehigh Valley, he will join the Phillies by the all-star break. Sizemore, after assorted knee surgeries, is better suited for a corner outfield spot like the one manned by Domonic Brown.

The 26-year-old leftfielder is one of the game's worst everyday players. Brown has kept his job because there is no one in the organization to replace him. Enter Sizemore, a dull fallback plan for Amaro.

The Phillies can use the final three months of this season to evaluate assets for 2015. Sizemore, in all probability, has a limited future. Brown's is still unwritten. Their best chance to understand Brown is to play him every day, no matter how revolting it is. Three putrid months in 2014 are not enough to render judgment, just like two spectacular months in 2013 were insufficient. This is what noncontending teams do; they permit a young player the chance to overcome adversity. If he fails, there are no regrets. Great confidence could result from a turnaround.

"Domonic is our leftfielder as we speak," Ryne Sandberg said last week, a period in which the manager twice benched Brown. "He is capable of swinging the bat. Every time he goes up there I have confidence that it might be the time where he pops one and drives in two or three runs."

It is difficult to overstate how terrible Brown's bat was during the first half. The last Phillies player to post a sub-.600 OPS and register enough at bats to qualify for the batting title in a non-shortened season was Steve Jeltz (.581) in 1986. The last Phillies outfielder to do it was a man named Stan Benjamin. He produced a .591 OPS for a 111-loss team in 1941, and is best known as the Astros scout who, 49 years later, recommended that Houston ask for Boston minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell in exchange for Larry Andersen.

Brown's worst month in 2013 -- a .670 OPS in 17 September games -- is some 80 points better than his 2014 first half. His scrutinized and injury-riddled second half in 2013 generated a .723 OPS. Entering the weekend, the National League's average OPS in 2014 was .699.

Brown established a high bar last May with his torrid month. Baseball America once ranked him as the game's fourth-best prospect. It is fine to revise those expectations; not every homegrown player is a star. He may never develop "baseball instincts" in the field. His defense is a liability, one that can be masked by offensive production.

The Phillies could lose patience. Brown, once labeled untouchable by Amaro in trade talks with Toronto for Roy Halladay, has been a trade chip for at least three years. The Phillies attempted to include him in the Hunter Pence deal but the Astros wanted for younger talent given their long-range rebuild plan. The Phillies front office was never sold on Brown's ability or acumen.

The reason why the Phillies never traded Brown in the winter is because Amaro could not find a match. He wanted a player like Brown -- young and under cheap control for four more years -- in return.

Amaro attempted to defend Brown at last fall's general manager meetings in Orlando. But, in the same breath, hinted at the major impediment to trading him: "Everyone is looking for the same thing and that's young controllable players. So there's no reason for us to be moving any of them." Or any team, for that matter.

A trade now, still on the table, could be foolish. Brown's value is at its lowest. The Phillies will explore for similar change-of-scenery type talents come July. Maybe they find a match. The likelihood is slim.

Brown, then, will either succeed or fail with the Phillies. The franchise craves an infusion of young talent in the lineup. Sizemore is not that. Maybe, if Maikel Franco flourishes in July, the Phillies could accelerate a Cody Asche left-field experiment.

The future is less certain for players like Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez. Development takes longer for some, and this rebuild will require humility.

Brown arrived with the most promise. It is not wise to discard him, at least not yet.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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