There are important storylines for 2013 that need to go right in order for the Phillies to return to the top of the NL East.
Roy Halladay’s health is the primary concern. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley finding health and production in their mid-30s is another.
But after those three players, perhaps the greatest key to the Phillies’ success next year (and in the years to follow) will be the development of right-fielder Domonic Brown.
For a long time, Brown was the one player Ruben Amaro absolutely would not trade. He would not trade him for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt or Hunter Pence.
He probably wouldn’t have traded him for Albert Trout, a Dr. Moreau-like hybrid-creation of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, either (I would have made that trade, by the way).
His talent was so tantalizing and the ceiling on his game so high, Brown was the guy Amaro enclosed in a glass case and would have had hermetically sealed if he could have.
But Brown probably would not have survived such a fate, what with the lack of oxygen, food and water.
Unfortunately, Brown’s career so far has been underwhelming.
In short stints with the team in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Brown’s slash line is .238/.320/.384 for an OPS of .716 with 11 HRs and 54 RBIs in 139 career games. And his defense until this year was also a big negative. So much so that the team started Brown in AAA this season.
However, in his last 15 games, Brown seems to be turning things around, hitting .255/.356/.510 for an OPS of .866 with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs. Perhaps more importantly, he has done a better job turning on the ball and hitting line drives when ahead in the count. His defense also seems to be much improved since his call-up, a real testament to how hard Brown worked while at LeHigh Valley.
The reason Brown is so vital to the team’s success next year is simple. He has tremendous upside while at the same time being extremely affordable.
Brown is making just $414,000 this year, with a slight raise scheduled for 2013. The earliest Brown will be eligible for arbitration is at the end of 2014, and the earliest he can become a free agent is after the 2017 season.
Of course, if Brown plays to an All-Star level, his arbitration numbers will get a little pricey. But for a team with as much cash as the Phils, he’d still be very cost efficient. For the next few years at least, Brown should be a cheap and affordable starting outfielder for the franchise.
That is, of course, if he plays well.
The Phillies are already going to be shelling out $25 million for Cliff Lee (totally worth every penny), $20 million each for Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard, $19.5 million for Cole Hamels, just over $15 million for Chase Utley, $13 million for Jonathan Papelbon and $11 million for Jimmy Rollins.
That’s about $124 million for seven players and doesn’t include any free agent outfielder, third baseman or relief pitchers the team is expected to sign.
The Phillies desperately need a young, cheap player to step up and provide offensive production.
In Domonic Brown, the Phils have a player with the potential to be an All-Star caliber player for fraction of his actual value.
And while he has yet to show that he will eventually develop into that kind of guy, the talent of Brown is undeniable. The only question is if he will fulfill it.
Next year, Dom will get his chance. He will be penciled in as the everyday right fielder for the 2013 Phillies.
A productive season from him could be the difference between an offense that works, and one that fails to get the Phils back to the playoffs for the second straight year.