It took almost the entire offseason, but Phillies president Dave Dombrowski was happy to declare Wednesday that the official signing of veteran shortstop Didi Gregorius “really completes our everyday lineup.”
Well, not quite.
There is still the rather messy matter of center field.
“I would say that’s one spot we have to iron out in 6 ½ weeks [of spring training],” manager Joe Girardi said during a Zoom call with reporters. “That’s the one spot that ... we’re not sure who’s going to take hold of it.”
In truth, we aren’t even sure how many horses are going to be at the starting gate when the team holds its first full-squad workout Feb. 22 at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla.
Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, and Scott Kingery, the three players who combined to make 56 starts in 60 games last season, will definitely be in the mix, but none of them will enter camp as the front-runner. We are also still waiting to find out if there is going to be a mystery guest in the competition.
Remember Odubel Herrera?
Dombrowski did not dismiss the idea that Herrera could come to camp as a non-roster invitee.
“There’s still a couple things we’re working through,” Dombrowski said. “The possibility exists, but I’m still not 100 percent ready to make that announcement because we’re still working on some things internally.”
A team source indicated that the final decision on whether Herrera receives an invitation to camp is in the hands of managing partner John Middleton. Another source indicated that the Phillies are leaning toward inviting Herrera.
The smart baseball move is obvious: Whether he makes the team or not, the Phillies owe Herrera $10.35 million this season and at least a $2.5 million buyout after the season. That’s money spent, so why not bring him into camp and let him compete for a job?
Herrera was suspended for 85 games without pay in 2019 after he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. The charges were dropped. He was assigned to the minor leagues last season, but no games were played because of the coronavirus pandemic.
We know this much about Herrera: The four seasons he put together from 2015 through 2018 were better than anything we have seen from the trio of Quinn, Haseley, and Kingery, which is why he is still working under a hefty contract. During his first four years with the Phillies, Herrera hit .279 with a .336 on-base percentage and a .763 OPS. He also averaged 28 doubles and 15 home runs per season. His 11.2 fWAR during that stretch ranked 15th among major-league center fielders.
Maybe the 29-year-old Herrera will never recapture that form, but the Phillies owe it to themselves to find out. Did he do something awful two years ago on Memorial Day at an Atlantic City casino? Yes and if he is ever involved in a domestic violence incident again, he should be banned from baseball forever. But he should also be given a second chance. Herrera, for the record, did play this winter, but he was limited to two games in the Dominican Republic by a groin injury.
Since then, however, he has been working out intensely near his home in Miami in the hope that the Phillies give him another chance.
Even if he does get an invite to camp, Herrera will be a long shot to make the team after a prolonged absence from the game.
“I think as you look at it right now, Haseley, Quinn, and Kingery are the three guys that we’re probably looking at the most right now,” Girardi said. “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 we can get from that position and I think it’s important.”
The Phillies ranked among the bottom third among teams in terms of center-field production last season. Their fWAR at the position was zero, which ranked 24th in baseball. Their center fielders combined for a total of two home runs and 12 extra-base hits, which were the lowest totals in baseball.
“They all offer different things,” Girardi said. “You look at Roman Quinn, he’s a speed guy that can create a lot of problems when he’s on the bases. So if he could get on base a lot, he has a chance to be a real influence on our lineup.”
True. Quinn stole 12 bases without being caught last year and has 35 stolen bases in 40 career attempts. According to MLB’s statcast, he is the second-fastest player in baseball. He has had two major problems in his career: staying healthy and consistently getting on base. He did play in 41 of the team’s 60 games, but his .261 on-base percentage prevented Girardi from playing him every day.
“You look at Haseley: He’s a real good on-base percentage guy that is going to hit some doubles and he is probably going to hit a few home runs,” Girardi said.
As the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Haseley figures to be the guy the Phillies really want to take control of the position, but it was clear down the stretch last season that Girardi did not have a lot of confidence in the former University of Virginia star. Haseley started just four of the Phillies’ final 16 games.
“I thought [Haseley] started off pretty good and then he hurt his wrist,” Girardi said.
Haseley was hitting .333 when he went on the injured list with a sprained wrist on Aug. 12. He hit just .259 (15-for-58) with three extra-base hits the remainder of the season.
“You look at Kingery, he can do a little bit of everything,” Girardi said. “He’s got power, he has speed, and he’s a doubles guy.”
Last year he also had COVID-19 before he arrived in summer camp and he ended up hitting .159 with just three home runs and eight extra-base hits.
And so the Phillies’ lineup is mostly settled with the official signing of Didi Gregorius. Now they just need somebody to claim the job in center field and it seems quite possible that Odubel Herrera is going to enter the competition.