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Phillies anoint Adam Haseley as top center fielder even before resolving their Odubel Herrera problem

The club won't allow the uncertainty over Herrera's future to cloud its view of Haseley's promise.

The Phillies expect Adam Haseley to be their primary center fielder next season.
The Phillies expect Adam Haseley to be their primary center fielder next season.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

SAN DIEGO — Just in case there was a doubt, allow Matt Klentak to explain the Phillies’ plan in center field next season.

“I expect that Adam Haseley’s going to be our regular center fielder,” the general manager said Wednesday as the winter meetings chugged along at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “Having said that, I recognize that when Roman Quinn is healthy and playing to his potential, it’s hard to take him out of the lineup. I think that combination of players likely takes down the majority of our center field reps.”

Makes sense, right?

Haseley, the Phillies' 2017 first-round pick, made his major-league debut last June, a few months ahead of schedule. He played solid defense and posted a .720 on-base plus slugging percentage that was only slightly below the National League average for center fielders (.741).

Quinn, meanwhile, is perpetually injured, having missed time with quadriceps, Achilles, elbow, finger, toe and groin issues over the last few seasons. But the 26-year-old also has track-star speed and a rocket arm that make him a potentially dynamic offensive and defensive player if only he could ever stay on the field long enough.

And at a time when the Phillies are only about $6 million shy of bumping up against the $208 million luxury-tax threshold, it would surely help to have two center fielders who figure to make less than $600,000 apiece in 2020.

"It's important," Klentak said, "that we maintain balance to our payroll."

None of this would register as big news, then, if not for the presence of a player that Phillies officials rarely talk about unless they’re asked.

Remember Odubel Herrera?

Once upon a time, Klentak gushed about Herrera’s skills in the same way that he now characterizes Haseley’s. Herrera was an All-Star center fielder in 2016. After that season, Klentak awarded him a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Phillies were sure that he would be part of their next playoff team.

But that was all before Herrera was arrested on May 27 in Atlantic City and charged with simple assault in a dispute with his girlfriend. The assault complaint was dropped in court, but Major League Baseball suspended Herrera without pay for 85 games — the balance of the season — after an investigation by the commissioner’s office determined that he had violated the league’s domestic violence policy.

Now, though, Herrera is back on the Phillies’ roster and burning a $6.1 million hole in their wallet. They can release him only for baseball reasons. They can trade him, but a source said this week that they haven’t received any interest.

So, Herrera is spending his winter at home in Miami, working out and preparing to play a season for a team that doesn't seem to have a place for him anymore.

"Anything that happens from here on out is going to be performance-driven, and he has to earn whatever he's going to get," said Klentak, who has recently been in touch with Herrera's agents but not Herrera. "His standing on our club is impacted by both how he performs but also what happens around him. Some of this is within his control and some of it is not."

The options seem clear:

1. Herrera could come to spring training and try to earn a spot on the bench as a reserve outfielder, although Quinn and Jay Bruce are in line for that role.

2. The Phillies could option Herrera to triple-A, where he would be paid his major-league salary.

3. Citing Herrera’s .217 average and .625 OPS since the middle of the 2018 season — and Haseley’s emergence — the Phillies could release him, a move that would leave them responsible for paying the remaining $20.2 million on his contract.

“From the cost perspective, no matter what status he’s in, we’re paying him,” Klentak said.

Not much the Phillies can do about that, even though an extra $6 million would allow them to add another mid-rotation starter or a late-inning bullpen arm before reaching the luxury-tax threshold. At least they aren’t allowing the financial commitment to Herrera to cloud their view of center field.

Some rival talent evaluators wonder if Haseley profiles as a fourth outfielder. Even Klentak conceded that his rookie season featured “some ups and downs.” But the 23-year-old showed enough promise to merit a longer look.

"Our team needs to make sure that we are giving opportunities to young players when the time is right and when those players deserve it," Klentak said. "With the way that our roster is unfolding, we have the center-field spot and we have a good young player who we really like who showed well for himself in his rookie year. It makes sense for us to let him get the reps out there.

“When you look at the body of work over three months that he was in the big leagues, that’s a pretty impressive rookie season. I think there’s reason for optimism that he’ll be better than that. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”

Herrera won’t stand in his way, either.