Sink or Swim: Play Brown & Ruf Now

Domonic Brown’s future may be one of the most divisive topics among Phillies fans right now. Some think he needs the next ticket out of town, while others think he needs 600+ at-bats to show that he can anchor an aging lineup through an inevitable transition. In terms of "boom or bust," he probably falls smack in the middle: he’ll be an MLB-level player, but may never the superstar we all imagined just a few years ago.

Darin Ruf’s future may be one of the most intriguing topics among Phillies fans right now. A relative unknown before breaking Ryan Howard’s minor league homerun record last season, Ruf opened eyes in a brief call-up. He has power, but he has questions marks. Can he sustain that power as more pitchers get to see him? If so, can he play at least adequate defense in left field? If the answer to those questions end up being ‘yes,’ Ruf could blossom into the superstar we all thought Brown would be.

Of course, only time will tell their futures. Both players could be out of the league in two or three years just as easily as they could be receiving contract extensions. This is why both should be starters in 2013.

The collective age of the Phillies roster has been written about time and time again. We get tired of hearing about it, but it’s an important factor when building for the future. Many core players are already showing decline or increased health problems. The two are obviously related and, while players like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard may still be able to turn in above average performances, we have to admit that they are not the superstars they once were. It is imperative that youth is brought into the team now so that the transition away from the Utleys, Howards, and Halladays on the team is easier.

The Phillies have some youth at the major league level. They have Ben Revere is center field for years to come. They locked up Cole Hamels last season. Jonathan Papelbon may be 32, but he likely has plenty of years left in the tank. The bullpen is filled to the brim with young arms behind Papelbon and Mike Adams, and you have to think that at least two or three of them will stick around.

But that’s where the youth ends. The entire starting infield could retire tomorrow and not many people would be surprised. Most of the well regarded prospects are more than one year away, and even then there’s no guarantees. Even the likely course that sees Cody Asche taking over third base in 2014 is no guarantee.

Then there’s the contract situation. Roy Halladay’s option likely won’t become guaranteed (he has to pitch 225 innings in 2013; he’s done that 6 times in 15 seasons). Michael Young, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz are free agents after this season. Jimmy Rollins and Kyle Kendrick become free agents after the 2014 season.

All of this leads to one thing: change.

The Phillies have been anchored by the same names for so long, we sometimes forget that these players won’t be around forever. But while those familiar names are here, there are two spots on the field where you can throw out the young guys and see what they can do. The corner outfield spots are kind of like that one girl you knew in college: wide open and just waiting for someone to grab hold and dive in. Going with the same metaphor, Brown and Ruf are like those guys you saw at every college party but never in a classroom: they’ll give it a shot.

Now, Ruben Amaro has thrown out the idea of a double platoon, rotating Brown, Ruf, John Mayberry, and Laynce Nix in the two corner spots. In a year of change, where expectations should be lower than they are, why should the Phillies do something like that? True, a platoon is something you do when there are no everyday options. But a platoon on a team that is not built to win a championship should not be happening unless the platoon guys are both young prospects who need to be evaluated. If the Phillies had signed a guy like Josh Hamilton, platooning Ruf and Brown in left field would be perfectly acceptable. But why would you give playing time to two known quantities - Nix and Mayberry - when you could be truly evaluating potential contributors in Brown and Ruf?

Add to this scenario the remaining outfield options. There are none. The two names being thrown around as trade candidates are Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano. Compare the slash lines from last season:

Brown: .235/.316/.396

Ruf: .333/.351/.727

Wells: .230/.279/.403

Soriano: .262/.322/.499

Ruf, of course, only had 33 at-bats in a late-season call up. In 489 at-bats with the Reading Phillies (AA), he hit .317/.408/.620 with 38 homeruns. He’s not worth comparing but, as mentioned earlier, there is enough intrigue to warrant regular playing time.

Look at Wells’ slash line. Why would you send even $1 to the Angels for him? The hope would be that he could rebound with a new team and turn in a strong performance. Why hope for that instead of playing Brown and hoping he can turn his previous experiences into success at the major league level?

Soriano is more interesting, as his numbers would be an improvement over Brown. But Soriano had a resurgence in 2012, improving his numbers across the board. Prior to this, he had been in a steady decline. Entering his age-37 season, why would you trade for him? He is a liability on the field, only capable of playing left. His presence likely means nowhere for Ruf to play.

On a team starved for right-handed power, Darin Ruf is the most logical option. He costs next to nothing and has shown flashes of stardom.

On a team starved for youth, Domonic Brown is the most logical option. He was once a highly regarded prospect who needs a chance to prove his worth.

In a season where the World Series is more than likely unreachable and the success of the team rides on the aging core of infielders and starting pitchers, there’s nothing to lose with Brown and Ruf in the corners.

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @gaysportsguy

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