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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    • Joecatz

      February 21, 2014 06:26 PM

      Interesting. Someone on one of the mlb radio shows mentioned that he thought it was telling that the braves (along with a number of other small to mid market teams) have very few young boras clients and tend to shy away from drafting them because of the extention issues.

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      February 22, 2014 07:36 AM

      Yeah, I was just going to write a comment saying: interesting intellectual exercise; it will never happen. Boras doesn’t have a hard and fast rule against locking players into long-term extensions before free agency, I think he’s done it a couple times before, but it’s really rare. And whatever reasonable comps you might come up with, he will come up with ones that sound ridiculous. He’s more than happy to risk taking a player to free agency, and more times than not, he gets them a lot of money. (This will be increasingly true as deals like the ones the Braves are signing take young players off the market.) So, unless the Phillies absolutely blow Brown away, it’s not going to happen, and nothing I’ve heard suggests the Phillies love him enough to blow him away.

      I actually think the Boras factor explains a lot of the otherwise perplexing rumors we heard this offseason about their putting Brown on the trading block. The Phillies know they won’t be able to do an extension deal, so they were (wisely) sizing up Brown’s trade value. If he has a big season this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go next offseason.

  1. Chuck

    February 21, 2014 04:45 PM

    Paul, what’s your projection for Brown’s defensive development? He seems to have improved over the past few years based on bref’s dWAR, but do any specific comparisons come to mind?

  2. SJHaack

    February 21, 2014 06:40 PM

    I’d honestly wait to extend Brown until he reproduces last season. It was a very nice year, but had a lot of hot and cold streaks and 40 walks from a guy who had tremendous plate discipline is still a little scary for me.

  3. BobSmith77

    February 21, 2014 08:52 PM

    No reason at all to even condider extending him at $9M AAV at this point over 4-5 years.

    Without any improvement in his game especially defensively and on the basepaths, his upside as a player from last season is very limited. Doesn’t even get into his issues with LHP or his leg injuries which have been an issue the last few years.

    Basically a ~2 WAR player right now who is at least a moderate injury risk going ahead forward. Maybe the Phils miss a bit of an opportunity to save $1-2M/year AAV right to extend him long-term but also the possibility he either doesn’t hit for as much power this year and/or is injured. More downside risk than upside or extending him long-term if you ask me.

  4. derekcarstairs

    February 22, 2014 03:09 AM

    Only players that you want to keep long-term do you sign long-term. It’s too early to have made that determination about Brown.

  5. ballerstatus

    February 22, 2014 04:42 PM

    off topic but is there talk of eventually moving asche to 2nd once utley is gone so franco can have 3b profiling both their bats more?

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      February 23, 2014 08:13 AM

      They tried Asche at second base in Williamsport and by most accounts he was horrible. I think that’s off the table.

      • derekcarstairs

        February 23, 2014 11:29 AM

        It also has not been established that Asche is a better defensive third baseman than Franco. Asche may not be a keeper in the organization. We’ll know soon enough.

  6. BenJah

    February 23, 2014 07:18 PM

    i like brown – i have no problem with him – i’m even excited about him… if it’s my money, i am in NO rush to sign him. and i’d give him whatever it takes, if he’s worth it, but he needs to prove that. his eventual contract can make ryan howard’s look like that of a utility infielder for all i care.. i’m just in NO hurry to get there, especially for a guy who hasn’t even hit arbitration yet. honestly, brown strikes me as a classic example of a guy you should be totally fine going year to year with

    • Phillie697

      February 24, 2014 12:57 PM

      You DO know that players that hit for .818 OPS don’t grow on trees right? In fact, in 2013, there were only 37 players (qualified) at ANY position who hit for a higher OPS than Dom. That averages out to about 1 per team. This is your idea of a player you should be totally fine going year to year with?

      What I think is that many Phillies fans are still waiting for the superstar top-ten player they all were unreasonably expecting Dom to be to show up, and anything less than that, they give the ridiculous “he’s a player you’re fine going year to year with.” Yet at the same time, the same Phillies fans probably thinks Ryan Howard deserves a roster spot until he’s 95 years old. This is why I get frustrated with the fans.

  7. Greg

    February 24, 2014 12:50 PM

    “Brown is the only player the Phillies have for whom an extension seems plausible or somewhat practical,”

    HA ha heh. Never stopped Rube before…

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