SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Odubel Herrera had been a mainstay in center field for five seasons before he was relegated last May to a bench role. His offense had slumped so much that the Phillies decided that Scott Kingery, a natural infielder, was a better option in center than the outfielder who had started there for four of the last five opening days.
Three days later, Herrera was arrested in Atlantic City in a domestic violence incident. He was placed on administrative leave and soon suspended for the rest of the season. Herrera went from everyday player to bench player to outcast.\
Herrera is now back from suspension, and the Phillies must decide if he will even be in their organization in 2020.
“The best thing I could say there is because the landscape has changed, he’s going to have to earn whatever he gets,” general manager Matt Klentak said at the general managers meetings. “He doesn’t walk back in as the opening-day center fielder.”
Kingery proved last season that he can hold his own in center field. Adam Haseley showed promise after being promoted from triple A and could enter spring training as the starter. Roman Quinn, Klentak said, is as dynamic as any player in the league when healthy. The Phillies could also add an outfielder this winter. There might not be room for Herrera.
“Whereas Odubel had been the everyday center fielder for a handful of seasons, now all of a sudden there’s more of a competition there, so the landscape has changed,” Klentak said. “He’s an option for us.”
The Phillies could try to trade Herrera this winter or simply release him and pay the remaining $21 million of his contract. But because of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, the Phillies must prove that they are releasing Herrera for baseball reasons and not because of his arrest.
Herrera was charged with assault on Memorial Day after his girlfriend sought out security at the Golden Nugget casino and said she had been attacked in their hotel room. The police report said “handprint markings” were found on her neck, in addition to scratches. In July, she declined to press charges and the judge dismissed the case.
The Phillies stripped Herrera’s banner from outside Citizens Bank Park and replaced his signage inside the stadium. The Phillies are aware of what the fans’ reaction would be if Herrera puts on a Phillies uniform in 2020.
But first, they have to build a case. The presence of Kingery, Haseley, and Quinn provides a foundation, while Herrera’s own performance should be enough for the Phillies to show a release as a baseball decision.
Herrera batted .222 this past season with a .629 OPS in 39 games before being arrested. In his final calendar year with the Phillies, he hit .218 with a .634 OPS and a strikeout in 23% of his at-bats. His struggles were not limited to just the start of last season.