The Phillies have invited Odubel Herrera to spring training, creating a path for the former All-Star outfielder to be on the team’s opening-day roster 21 months after he was arrested on domestic violence charges.
Herrera will be one of 19 players to take part in the team’s Clearwater, Fla. “minicamp,” which is considered a hybrid between the traditional major-league and minor-league spring trainings.
He will train with the major-league players and play in major-league spring games but report to the minor-league clubhouse at the Carpenter Complex. With a strong spring, a minicamp player can play himself onto the major-league roster.
The Phillies still owe the 29-year-old Herrera at least $13.85 million and can make him a free agent after this season.
“I mean, if we do bring him to camp, he will of course compete for the job if that ends up happening,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last week.
Herrera was suspended for 85 games by Major League Baseball in May 2019 after being charged in Atlantic City with simple assault and knowingly causing bodily injury after leaving handprint markings and small scratches on his girlfriend’s neck. The charges were dismissed two months later when his girlfriend declined to proceed with the case.
Herrera said last February that he and his girlfriend attended counseling sessions in Center City for two months during his suspension. He apologized and said he “wants to turn the page and keep going with life.”
“What I can tell you about that night is that I’m very sorry,” Herrera said last year. “We have had a very long relationship. Like every couple, sometimes you argue. Sometimes there are problems. But we’ve grown as a couple. We have a healthy relationship. We’ve learned from that.”
The Phillies also invited to minicamp pitchers Tyler Carr, Enyel De Los Santos, Julian Garcia, JD Hammer, Jonathan Hennigan, Jakob Hernandez, Erik Miller, David Parkinson, David Paulino, and Zach Warren; catchers Edgar Cabral and Logan O’Hoppe; infielders Darick Hall, Bryson Stott, and Luke Williams; and outfielders Jhailyn Ortiz, Johan Rojas, and Matt Vierling.
They also signed 37-year-old Jeff Mathis, a 16-year veteran catcher, to a minor-league deal with an invite to major-league camp.
The Phillies removed Herrera from the 40-man roster after the 2019 season, but were forbidden by the league’s collective bargaining agreement to release him under for non-baseball reasons following his suspension.
They exiled him last year to minor-league spring training and did not add him last summer to their alternate site in Allentown, seeming to indicate that they would move on from the player they had signed to a $30.5 million contract in 2016.
But Tuesday’s decision provides a chance for Herrera to work himself back into the team’s plans. It also could be a way for the team to gauge how the fans would react if Herrera played again in Philadelphia.
The Phillies begin spring training Wednesday with every position set except center field, the place Herrera played for five seasons. His lone action in nearly two years was two games this winter in the Dominican Republic, so it’s hard to know if Herrera can still be the player who hit .288 with a .744 OPS in his first three seasons.
Herrera’s production was declining before his suspension. He was removed from the starting lineup shortly before his arrest and was hitting just .218 over the previous calendar year. In 2019, Herrera looked like a far different player from the All Star he was in 2016.
He will compete in spring training with the three players who replaced him last season: Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, and Scott Kingery. But the competition is wide open. Phillies center fielders last season ranked 24th in WAR, 26th in OPS, and 17th in batting average. If the lineup can use an upgrade, it’s in center field. And the Phillies are giving Herrera a chance to be that upgrade.
“Right now, Haseley, Quinn, and Kingery are the three guys that we’re probably looking at the most right now,” manager Joe Girardi said last week. “And we need one guy to take hold of it or even two guys. I mean, I’d be willing to platoon. I’d be willing to do a lot of different things out there. We just want the most production that we can get from that position, and I think it’s important. They all offer different things. ... You’re looking for someone to just say, ‘Hey, this is mine and you’re not taking it,’ and that’s what we hope happens in spring training.”