Domonic Brown entered the season with the promise of regular playing time and promptly delivered all-star caliber production. He hit a robust .290/.326/.613, with 18 homers, during May and June and had a .274/.321/.545 batting line at the end of that stretch. He was finally delivering on his potential and showing why he was untouchable in past deals.
He took major strides forward offensively this season and could have approached 35 home runs if not for a couple nagging injuries. He sacrificed some patience for power, walking just 6.4% of the time, compared to 11.9% in 2011 and 9.9% last season. However, that trade-off was very much necessary, as injuries depleted the Phillies lineup and left him the only serious power threat for much of the year.
Despite his offensive improvement, Brown has only produced 1.7 WAR this year. He has never rated positively in the field and his -7 fielding mark eats away at his bat’s value. Switching positions and lacking consistent playing time in the majors from 2010-12 plays a role, but it’s hard to attribute all of his fielding woes to those circumstances.
He figures to play 140 games this season at 2 WAR. That equates to league average performance over almost a full season, which has value, especially considering his meager salary. He’ll be 27 years old next year, which is the point that players typically begin their peak, so he’s no longer a young prospect finding his way. Aside from that torrid stretch in May and June, he has hit similarly to his batting lines in 2011-12. That isn’t bad, in and of itself, but it invites the question of Brown’s true talent level.
As the Phillies look to retool their roster, it’s interesting to wonder whether Brown might benefit them more as a trade chip than as a building block. He is young and cheap enough to attract suitors and is major league ready. Retooling teams don’t often trade talented and cost-controlled assets, but in Brown’s case it’s worth asking whether the team would be selling high by pursuing a trade this offseason. If the answer is yes, should the Phillies consider unloading Brown while the iron is hot?
Brown absolutely raked in May and June, but in April and from July-September, he hit .255/.312/.415. In 2011, he hit .245/.333/.391. In 2012, he hit .235/.316/.396. Aside from that stretch earlier this season, Brown looks the same as he did the last couple of years.
Now, extended hot streaks cannot be ignored. Some players cobble together solid seasons by combining average-ish offensive production for a longer span with a torrid spurt or two. Others are more consistently good. Brown’s season shouldn’t be written off because the bulk of his productivity occurred in a concentrated period, but the nature of his production raises questions of what to expect moving forward.
Is Brown’s true talent really in the .275/.320/.515 range? Or is he more likely to hit around .246/.322/.403 — his numbers from 2011-12 and April, July-September 2013? Or, perhaps somewhere in between, like .260/.320/.450?
This question is important on account of his fielding and baserunning. Brown has value as the .500+ slugger with 25-30 homers and a league average on-base percentage; remember, the league average has fallen quite a bit, so his rate is still decent. If his true talent level at the plate resembles the latter pair of slash lines the situation grows murkier.
With average or slightly below baserunning and a -6 fielding rating, Brown would hover around 1-1.4 WAR over 140 games with those lines. While that range still technically creates value, given his salary, it isn’t indicative of the type of player you want to build around.
It is also possible that Brown continues to improve and grows into a .280/.335/.515 hitter and a perennial 30-HR threat. This was, after all, just his first full season in the majors. With experience and repetition he may be able to improve his fielding and ability to recognize pitches. It’s entirely possible that right now isn’t the ‘high’ at which he could be sold.
It’s a tricky situation because he is at the perfect age where teams could be convinced that he is primed to break out, but where, if he doesn’t, the Phillies are frankly going to be left with a mediocre overall player that could have potentially brought back much more.
It might seem odd to consider trading Brown this offseason, but what if the Marlins finally decide that they would consider dealing Giancarlo Stanton? And what if they wanted some package including Brown, Jesse Biddle, Freddy Galvis and a decent-but-lesser prospect?
What if other stars become available and Brown is the desired price? The Phillies wouldn’t dare deal him for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but in seeing him play everyday and getting a better sense of his skill-set, might they now?
It’s very difficult to build through free agency these days and it takes the right confluence of events for a Stanton or another star to become available via trade. In those rarer situations teams really need to know what they have. Right now, it’s tough to say that the Phillies know what they have in Brown. He might hit 30 home runs this season, but how confident are you in his ability to repeat that next season?
He may be just as much a question mark as Cody Asche, Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez, only with the top prospect pedigree on his side. In all likelihood, the Phillies will hold onto Brown and hope he can replicate, or improve upon, this year’s performance. But the team should at least consider the possibility of trading him to improve in different areas.
His offensive productivity is reduced by his fielding problems, lowering his overall value to the Phillies, but the bat could still prove enticing to other teams. The ideal situation is for Brown to continue improving and develop consistent patience, power and fielding, but the Phillies shouldn’t enter the offseason supremely confident in that scenario.
For the first time in his career, Brown should be considered very much touchable.