ALLENTOWN - We have reached a point where there is very little that can distinguish the best-case and worse-case scenarios for this Phillies team, so whatever the Phillies decide to do with Domonic Brown, the result is unlikely to be anything other than a season of soul-sucking ineptitude followed by at least two or three more. I suppose that qualifies as solace. Still, we are paid to write about sports, and the Phillies play sports, and thus we would be remiss if we did not spend a bit of time on the apparent disconnect between player and organization that has been revealed over the last 48 hours.
As you may or may not be aware - if you are not, then we salute you, and ask that you pray for the rest of us - Brown told reporters here at Coca-Cola Park on Sunday that he expected to rejoin the active roster tomorrow, when his 20-game minor league rehab stint will expire. Yesterday, manager Ryne Sandberg told reporters in St. Louis that the Phillies have made no decisions about Brown, which means they have not ruled out the possibility of optioning him to the minors after he is activated from the disabled list.
"From what I've seen," Sandberg said, "I don't know that he's ready for major league pitching."
In most situations, that logic would make perfect sense. Except these are the 2015 Phillies we are talking about, a team that has already done such a remarkable job of cobbling together a lineup so uniquely ill-prepared to face major league pitching that it is unclear why they would risk it all by introducing such a requirement. After all, Grady Sizemore, the logical candidate for replacement, hasn't looked ready for major league pitching since 2009.
Nobody is suggesting Brown will prove to be anything greater than a new name to plug into a foundering lineup. In a loss to the Durham Bulls last night, he popped up in his first three plate appearances before a bloop single in his fourth. Enough time has passed since his 17-homers-in-39-games stretch to give some credence the doubts that have long existed about his game. At 27, with more than three years of big-league service time and 1,500 plate appearances, it is more than fair to wonder whether Brown is exactly what his career numbers say that he is: an average hitter capable of an occasional hot streak who plays well-below-average defense and thus has no obvious role on a contending team.
But even if you believe that we have almost certainly seen the best that Domonic Brown has to offer, that still isn't an argument that he shouldn't be in the Phillies' lineup, because the guys he would be replacing have even less of a shot at turning into something other than the player they have been over the last four years. And if the front office is really committed to this whole rebuilding experiment, why not err on the side of the 27-year-old with three more seasons of club control, assuming all other things are equal, which they pretty clearly are?
True, 17 of the 37 home runs Brown has hit over the last two years came in that aforementioned 39-game stretch. But Sizemore is currently in the thick of a 15-homers-in-six-years stretch. Nicolas Cage has more recent hits.
Maybe all we have here is a failure to communicate. After last night's game, Brown said he hasn't heard anything from the big-league club about its plan for him. Maybe the Phillies have Brown scheduled for a stretch of remedial work in the minors. He is aware of that possibility.
"I guess I'll find out tomorrow for sure," he said.
Brown has spent the past few days working with former manager Charlie Manuel, whose role with the organization has evolved into part scout, part roving hitting instructor. Before last night's game, the two men spent a long chunk of time talking one-on-one in the IronPigs' dugout. Since Sandberg took over for Manuel, there have been times when Brown has seemed to have played himself out of the manager's favor, either with his defense, or his bat, or his occasional nagging injury, or a combination of all three. In the weeks after Sizemore joined the active roster last season, his plate appearances came at Brown's expense.
There are plenty of indications that Brown is at Lehigh Valley for reasons other than physical rehabilitation. The rightfielder has made a subtle but significant change in his stance, widening his legs in order to provide his lanky frame with better balance.
"To be honest with you, I know the results are going to come but I just really wanted to get a good base back," Brown said. "I watched a lot of 2013 video and stuff like that. It's totally different from last year. I don't know how that happened, but it's totally different. I feel like I'm getting there."
The goal is less of that corkscrew, uppercut action in the mechanics of the swing, and if the Phillies think he can better accomplish that somewhere other than the major leagues, then it is a worthy endeavor. But the process probably would have benefited Brown had they explained it to him before he set his sights on returning to the big leagues tomorrow.
"I don't know what the plan is," Brown said, "but whatever it is, I have to roll with it, enjoy my time down here and get back to the big leagues."