Jeff Passan of Yahoo floated a rumor this morning that the Phillies were looking to swap All-Star outfielder Domonic Brown for "controllable" starting pitching. On the surface, this sounds completely ridiculous. Why would Ruben Amaro want to get rid of his leading home run hitter from 2013, who just happens to be only 26-years old and under team control for four more seasons?
Now, while I don't think any of these reasons are really valid for trading Brown, they *could* be part of Amaro's mindset.
Brown has had problems staying health. Whether the tag is fair or not, the "injury-prone" label has been stuck on Brown. In 2013, Brown played a career-high 139 games. He had never played in that many in the majors or minors combined in any one season since being drafted in 2006. In 2009, Brown missed time with a broken finger. In 2010, he strained a quad. In 2011, he broke a hamate bone and sprained a thumb. In 2012, the thumb was once again an issue along with a sore back and neck. 2013 was largely injury-free, though Brown did miss time with a concussion and his Achilles began to bother him at the end of the year. Maybe Amaro thinks of Brown as a walking MASH unit and would want a more consistently healthy presence in the outfield.
Brown is showing some significant platoon splits. In his major league career, Brown has a .235/.291/.379 line against left-handers. Against right-handers, Brown has hit .262/.330/.468. Even in his breakout 2013, when Brown hit .272/.324/.494, he hit just .252/.296/.429 against southpaws. Only six of his 27 homers last season came against left-handers as well. along with a lower walk rate and a higher strikeout rate. After seeing Ryan Howard get reduced to a shell of himself against left-handers, maybe Amaro wants to cut bait before that happens with Brown as well.
Brown is a terrible fielder. Domonic Brown's defense in the majors has been, in a word, disastrous. In just over 2100 major league innings in the outfield, almost evenly split between left and right field, Brown has collected -23 DRS and -25.1 UZR. He's also balanced out his 17 assists with ten errors (eight of which were fielding errors). Brown's defense hasn't been nearly as bad as former Phillie Raul Ibanez's, though both his DRS and UZR rank in the bottom 15 of all outfielders since 2010 – and Brown has much logged much fewer innings than the rest of that crew. Maybe Amaro is trying to improve his team's outfield defense after dealing Shane Victorino at the 2012 trade deadline.
None of those possible reasons are really great ones. The only player 25 or under that had more home runs than Brown last year was NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks. Brown, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Seager were the only left-handed hitters 25 or younger to hit at least 20 homers last year. Passan's tidbit mentioned that the Phillies were looking to sell high on Brown, but would that really be the case here? Brown had two great months in 2013, but got off to a cold start in April and struggled in the second half while dealing with injuries. I'm not sure if cutting bait on Brown after 2013 qualifies as "selling high", or simply "looking for an excuse to move on".
Perhaps the more bizarre thing about trading Brown would be how the Phillies would plan on filling his spot in the lineup. The most logical in-house replacement would be Darin Ruf, who is 27, played an even worse defensive outfield than Brown in 2013, and was more of a disaster against lefties, hitting them at a .188/.309/.349 clip. Unless, of course, Amaro's plan is to throw money at a free agent to replace Brown – which would likely result in Nelson Cruz or Shin-Soo Choo (both of whom are on the wrong side of 30) coming to town at eight figures a season. And wouldn't bringing in either of those players continue to work against Amaro's "get younger" proclamation from earlier this offseason?
In short: if Amaro does intend to trade Brown for that young, controllable pitching he so desires, he'll be barking up the wrong tree. Brown is a flawed player, but there really aren't too many players in baseball that excel in every facet of the game. This is a player that has superstar potential, and removing his bat from Philadelphia's lineup would only create more problems in the future – even if he brings back arms.