Domonic Brown may finally get his chance

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Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, amid all of his wheeling and dealing over the years, had one hard and fast rule: hands off Domonic Brown. Amaro traded for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, completely depleting his team’s farm system but for one player. Brown was rated the #4 overall prospect by Baseball America entering the 2011 season, but the outfielder suffered a hamate fracture in his right hand early in spring training. When he finally returned, his power was gone — the lefty hit just five home runs in 209 plate appearances at the Major League level between May 21 and July 29. Brown was demoted to the Minors at the end of July but his fortune did not improve.

Brown began the 2012 season in the Minors as Amaro wanted his outfielder to get regular playing time, rather than irregular and unpredictable playing time in an outfield that at the time included Pence and Shane Victorino. Brown was finally given his shot at the end of July, but did not impress in the final two months of the season, hitting just .235 with five home runs. Amaro, once thought to be wise to hold on to Brown, now looked foolish for failing to maximize the value of his once top prospect while others, such as Travis d’Arnaud and Jonathan Singleton, thrived in other organizations.

ESPN’s Keith Law suggested that it takes 12-18 months for a player to recover his power after suffering a hamate bone injury. The end of the 2012 season marked 18 months, effectively meaning that Brown’s failure at the plate going forward could not be blamed on his injury any longer. The spring competition for two corner outfield jobs marked Brown’s final chance, at least in the Phillies organization. If he could not beat John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, and Darin Ruf for one of two outfield vacancies, he could not beat anybody.

Brown, thus far, has been up to the task and is viewed as the early favorite to earn an everyday spot in the outfield. In 33 spring at-bats, Brown is hitting .424 with a team-high three home runs. He has also walked more times than he has struck out (six to five), displaying his trademark eagle eye at the plate. His 13 runs scored leads all spring training participants while his six walks ranks fourth. Perhaps most impressively, his defense has looked cleaner. He is still no Gold Glover out there, but an off-season of work and a clean bill of health appear to have given Brown ample time to improve his biggest weakness.

Delmon Young is expected to take over right field on an everyday basis when he returns from an ankle injury, but Brown could man right field in his absence. He would then shift over to left upon Young’s return. Brown’s other competitors aren’t faring so well this spring. Ruf is hitting .200 and has looked completely lost in the outfield. Mayberry is hitting .250. Nix is hitting .111. The stars seem to be, at long last, in alignment for Brown, the victim of so much adversity early in his Major League career. And there may be no one happier about this development than Amaro.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.