The Lost Art of Patience

To read a similar take on Dom Brown with an eye to the future, check out Bill’s article on ESPN Sweet Spot.

I’ve finally had enough.

I took it rather well for a few days, this incessant whisper from a fraction of the fanbase that Domonic Brown is not just trade bait, but should be dealt. The reasoning seems varied, but it seems to boil down to the notion that Domonic Brown is not now – nor will he ever be – better than Hunter Pence, and, as such, the two should be swapped.

It seems that, if one area of this very good Phillies club should be upgraded, it’s the offense. With Carlos Beltran off the market as a new member of the San Francisco Giants, the best possible upgrade is no longer available. Enter Pence, whose skillset and rumored availability put him squarely in the second tier of available outfield bats. Pence is enjoying a productive season, hitting .307/.354/.467 with 11 HR in 426 plate appearances entering Thursday. Pros and cons of his ability and season stats abound, but this post is not about Pence.

No, this post is about the perception of Brown. Brown, a man who entered his first Major League game to a standing ovation and entered the 2011 season as a near-consensus top five prospect in all of Minor League baseball, now finds himself rumored to be on the trading block. None of us knows for sure if he’s really being dangled, thanks to the airtight nature of the Phillies’ front office, but the very thought of giving up so soon being embraced so easily by some fans discourages me.

Dom Brown, he of the 23 years and 328 days of age, is not Jason Heyward. He has not emerged as a regular starter and set the world on fire. What he has done, though, is accomplish far more than perception seems to be giving him credit for.

  • .251/.343/.406 season slash. The AVG is 5th among NL rookies, the OBP is 3rd and the SLG is 4th.
  • 5 HR in 201 PA. Not great, but when you consider Brown’s hamate injury in the spring and the fact that Pence has 11 HR in 426 PA, it doesn’t seem so bad.
  • Be team-controlled. This isn’t so much an accomplishment as it is a characteristic. Brown will not qualify as a Super Two after the 2012 season, so his arbitration years won’t start until after 2013. He will make in the neighborhood of $450k in the meantime.

That last point stick as the most salient, to me. Across last year and this one, Brown has played just 87 games – little more than half of one season – and his production is on par with what Raul Ibanez has done in twice the playing time. Since that’s not so flattering these days, I’ll say instead that Brown’s .749 OPS ranks 4th among Phillies regulars (behind Victorino, Utley and Howard) and 5th overall (also trails Mayberry). His walk rate is the highest on the team, and he has nearly as many walks as he does strikeouts.

All of this, and he’s cheap for two more full seasons. Cheap, on a team with the following players entering arbitration or hitting free agency between now and the winter of 2012: Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Cole Hamels. Some of the players named are just money off the books, but they’ll need replacing. Is it that much of an upgrade to add Hunter Pence for two seasons – likely at upward of $20 million combined in that time – than have Brown for five more? Sure, this team has a “window,” but it sure isn’t closing when this season is over. Is it worth tying up that much money in a good-not-great player when better-to-star caliber players will need replacing or new contracts?

Better yet, why are some so quick to give up on Brown as a lost cause? If anything, Philadelphia should be somewhat accustomed to slow starts. Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and even Mike Schmidt started their Philly careers without blowing everybody away, yet with patience, coaching and experience, they are turned into excellent players. Brown has the potential to be the next Philly star, better than the guy he’s rumored to possibly be traded for. If only we’re given the chance to see it happen.