The Extension Parade and Domonic Brown

You might have noticed that a lot of young players – most of them Braves – have been inked to long-term, pre-free agency extensions recently. Freddie Freeman, Michael Brantley, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Andrelton Simmons were each signed to a deal of four or more years this month, and while none of those players presents a great comparable for the Phillies’ Domonic Brown, I can’t help but wonder if a similar approach should be taken with regard to his contract situation.

Brown’s first season of arbitration eligibility will come next winter, the first of three before he’s eligible to test the waters of free agency. Brown is the only player the Phillies have for whom an extension seems plausible or somewhat practical, as he’s still just 26 and isn’t already locked up for one or more of his free agent years. His .272/.324/.494 season in 2013 was a welcome breakout, a solid season that came after three years of uncertainty, injury and irregular playing time. Now, entering 2014, he’s guaranteed a starting spot when healthy and figures to bat fifth most days.

The argument in favor of extending Brown centers around his age – one of the few young players on the roster at any position – and the likelihood of said extension not forcing the Phillies to break the bank by topping nine figures. The argument against is based on the relative lack of a successful track record and an already near-luxury tax threshold payroll.

It’s this last point that makes any talk of a Brown extension seem pushed back to, at the very least, post-trade deadline. It doesn’t make much sense for the Phillies to push themselves over into tax territory for a player who has three controlled years remaining. The obvious risk there is missing the opportunity to cheaply lock Brown up, assuming his 2014 follows a track of improvement instead of stagnation or setback.

So let’s consider dollar figures, and start by finding a good contractual comparable. The vitals, in some order of importance, are: outfielder, mid-20s (24-27), left-handed bat, a couple years of service time in and still within team control (at least via arbitration). Given those criteria, here are some potential matches from the past few years:

  • Brantley, CLE (4 years/$25 million; entering 1st arbitration year at signing entering 2014, age 26)
  • Alex Gordon, KC (4 years/$37.5 million; entering 3rd arbitration year at signing entering 2012, age 28)
  • Jay Bruce, CIN (6 years/$51 million; entering 1st arbitration year at signing entering 2011, age 24)

They may not be perfect comps, but they do give us a decent range of dollar amounts to look at. Statistically speaking, how do these four match up? Here are the career numbers for each player through the last season before they inked their deals, with Brown’s simply being through the 2013 season:

Brown Brantley Gordon Bruce
PA 1,032 2,162 2,332 1,412
AVG .255 .277 .262 .257
OBP .320 .330 .343 .327
SLG .445 .382 .434 .474
wOBA .330 .312 .332 .343

The obvious discrepancy here is playing time, where Brown lags severely. A full season of 600+ PA would even things out a bit, there, but for purposes of comparison today, this would have to do.

Gordon and Bruce, offensively, seem to be the best comparables here, but the big difference here is that those two are noticeably better defensive players than Brown. Defense usually doesn’t seem to play a huge part in contract extension talks (unless you’re Simmons, probably), but it’s especially worth noting here because how big the perceived gulf is. So keep that in mind.

So what we see above, summarily, is that Brown is off to a good start. He’s buoyed by 2013, but it isn’t as if that sort of season came completely out of the blue or can’t be reasonably expected in 2014, as well. With another season of similar production and his first arbitration year looming, it seems reasonable to expect Brown to command $8-10 million AAV over the length of a deal that buys out one or two free agent years, with rough inflation estimation. If his improvement continues during the coming season, $11 million AAV isn’t out of the question. Does that deal happen before July? No, probably not, as there’s no room in the payroll budget.

Now, if the Phillies feel they can’t add another multi-year deal to the books (assuming Lee or Hamels or Utley or Howard aren’t among those moved in July), Brown could always be moved. That doesn’t seem particularly prudent at this moment, given the lack of close-to-MLB-ready outfielders in the Phillies’ system, but sports are unpredictable. Assuming the current situation holds, Brown would likely be worth the retention price. As stated above, the risk of another level of breakout further elevating his price tag is at hand, but that seems to be a good problem to have (a player under 30 playing that well, what a concept!).

Either way, a decision on Brown’s future in Philly looms on the horizon, and the sooner it gets taken care of (preferably with an extension), the better off everyone involved will be.

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