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Brown’s Bad Break Limits Phillies’ Flexibility

The Philadelphia Phillies offensive depth was already going to be thin this season. That was before Domonic Brown broke the hamate bone on his right wrist Saturday afternoon. And while there’s an argument that this might have been a good thing in the long run for Brown, and that the Phillies may not suffer much of a drop-off from Brown to Ben Francisco, the injury will seriously test the Phillies’ already thin depth.

Brown, a consensus top four prospect in all of baseball heading into this season, and the first player listed in Dave Cameron’s trade value column last July, certainly has plenty of company with the injury. Among those who have had the surgery are Troy Tulowitzki, Ken Griffey Jr., Chris Dickerson, James Loney, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Carlos Gomez, Jose Guillen…it’s a long list. Some opt for surgery right away, and some play through it. Back in 2003, Guillen, in the midst of both a contract push and a playoff race with Oakland, chose to rub some dirt on it and kept playing. In a limited sample at the end of season and into the playoffs, he went nine-for-25, with a double and a homer. Pedroia, also in the playoff hunt, played through it in September and October of 2007. After discovering the break on September 10, he slugged .452 in 124 at-bats through the end of the Sox’s World Series triumph. But in the end, surgery is needed, and the bone is generally removed altogether.

Often, this accompanies a loss of power upon the player’s return, but that is not always the case, as it was not the case for Tulowitzki last season. In his first 30 games back, the shortstop slugged .504, and that was before producing a record-breaking September, during which he hit 15 homers and slugged .754. So while it is best to temper expectations for Brown, this isn’t a death sentence by any stretch. In fact, the silver lining could be that Brown now gets some more time in the Minors, where he can play every day, away from the pressure-filled confines of Citizens Bank Park.

Had Brown started the year slowly in Philadelphia, he could have been yo-yoed in and out of the lineup like another formerly highly touted prospect. As it was, there were already whispers that Francisco’s hot start in Clearwater had given him the edge for the job. The injury will give Brown and the Phillies a good cover with which to give him at-bats in the Minors until he is fully healthy and ready to claim the right field job outright in mid-summer. Francisco can hold down ably in the meantime. Marcel has Francisco pegged for 10 homers and a .328 wOBA in 344 plate appearances this season, which is essentially the same as its projection of six homers and a wOBA of .320 in 235 PA’s for Brown.

But while Francisco gives Brown time to heal, and rejoin the fray without the pressure of having to be ‘the man’ right from Opening Day, this injury likely both limits the Phillies flexibility and pushes some green players on to the active roster. Michael Martinez didn’t reach Triple-A until his age 27 season. He is now a legit candidate to make the roster as an infielder/outfielder. John Mayberry, who will be 27 this season, has a grand total of 50 big-league games under his belt. He may be the fourth outfielder now. If he’s not, then the honor may defer to Ross Gload, who is really only an outfielder in the way that the queen of England runs her country. Gload was used primarily as a pinch-hitter in Philly last season, and he hasn’t started more than nine games in the outfield since 2004. Non-roster options don’t inspire any more confidence. While Gload won’t defend like a corner outfielder, he might hit like one. It is just the opposite for Cory Sullivan. It might be fun to engage in another act at Small Sample Size Theater and tout Sullivan’s .372 average at Citizens Bank Park in a whopping 43 at-bat sample, but in the end he’s still the same guy with a career .312 wOBA and .381 SLG. That won’t help the Phillies. Neither will Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss or Matt Miller (if you can’t slug better than .436 playing in Colorado Springs, you’re not going to fare well in The Show).

Brown’s injury also puts more pressure on Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino stay healthy and effective. In Will Carroll’s Philadelphia Team Health Report, his only red light was Ibanez. In his comment on Ibanez, he mentions that it may be wise to platoon Ibanez, something that the Phillies will have less of an opportunity to do now that Francisco is starting in the opposite corner. Carroll’s comment on Victorino isn’t any less encouraging, as he notes that Victorino is basically a ticking time bomb. The Phillies are fortunate to have Francisco around to cover for Brown, but aside from him, the Phillies don’t have anyone capable of playing well for more than a handful of games at a time, if that.

In losing Jayson Werth, the Phillies were already looking at a downgrade in outfield production this season. Some extra Minor League seasoning as a result of this injury may benefit Brown, but the net result here is that the Phillies are now looking at both a downgrade in production and a tightening of their already inflexible roster.