Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 6/12/12

Jim Salisbury wrote yesterday for CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies’ interest in Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler — who signed with the Cubs on Monday — was a reflection of the Phils’ own outfield uncertainty.

That refers to impending free agent centerfielder Shane Victorino and rightfielder Hunter Pence, who is under team control for 2013 but becomes a free agent afterward.

Salisbury writes that Pence, because of his team control, has more value than Victorino, which is true.

However, it’s my opinion that it still probably makes more sense to trade Victorino since a decision on him must be made sooner rather than later.

Victorino is deserved of a contract in the range of what Brandon Phillips was just given by the Reds — six years, $72.5 million. I would expect Victorino to get one fewer year than Phillips but the same annual average salary of $12 million.

Sixty-million dollars is a lot to commit to a centerfielder who will be 32 years old before the contract even begins. Pence,  meanwhile, is two years younger and speed is not his biggest skill. He’s probably a safer bet to commit to long-term.

Trading Victorino or letting him walk would put the Phillies at just about $121 million next season for 20 players. That leaves them just under $60 million to play with for next season. Add in Pence’s final year of arbitration at about $15 million and you’re down to $45 million — more than enough money to re-sign Cole Hamels (keep in mind that the luxury tax threshold increases from $178 million to $189 million after next season) and still make more moves.

The question becomes, “What do you covet more: Victorino’s speed and skills in center or Pence’s run production?”

There is one major factor that helps answer that question.

DOM BROWN

Domonic Brown has played eight games in centerfield since Phillies player development director Joe Jordan noticed how good he looked shagging balls in center a few weeks ago. Brown has played 10 games in center since May 24, and since May 26 he’s 21-for-61 (.344) with four homers, seven RBI and 16 runs scored.

It was the kind of switch that has the potential to do two things — reestablish Brown’s  trade value and make Victorino a bit more expendable. The Phillies certainly wouldn’t just hand the everyday CF job to Brown next season, but if he hits well enough and plays adequate defense there they could give him regular playing time with a few days a week in center next season. They could sign a cheaper outfielder like Angel Pagan to roam center the rest of the time and play left or right field when Brown gets a turn in centerfield.

That scenario allows you to save money, develop Brown, pay Hamels, pay Pence and at the end of the day, Pagan isn’t so much worse than Victorino. He’s hit .289/.339/.429 the last four years with 162-game averages of 37 steals and 58 extra-base hits per season. Victorino over that same span is at .274/.344/.449 with 162-game averages of 66 extra-base hits and 30 steals.

But Victorino is going to get that $60 million, whereas Pagan could probably be had for three years, $24 million.

It may appear on the surface that the Phillies are hampered by their current and upcoming contracts. But this exercise shows you just how much wiggle room can be created by not paying one of Victorino or Pence.

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