Odubel Herrera will likely meet some resistance from Philadelphia fans if he does play again at Citizens Bank Park, but his team is not showing Herrera any overt opposition this week in Florida as Herrera returns to spring training 21 months after being arrested on domestic violence charges.
Aaron Nola said Wednesday he believes in second chances and would accept Herrera’s return. He believes his teammates would, too. Joe Girardi said some players will be forgiving, while others will be slower to forgive. Not everyone will feel the same, Girardi said, but the Phillies are “playing by the rules.”
Girardi said the league’s collective bargaining agreement “allows for redemption” and gives Herrera “the chance to prove to his teammates, to the fans of Philadelphia, and to the organization that he is a changed person.”
The CBA barred the Phillies from further disciplining Herrera — which would include releasing him for non-baseball reasons — after he was suspended in 2019 for 85 games. They invited him to Clearwater for spring training, where he is expected to compete for the starting job in center field.
“There may be guys who never have open arms but I would ask that everyone gives him a chance to prove himself, that’s all,” Girardi said. “He has to prove himself to me, as well, on a lot of different fronts, but I would ask that everyone gives him the opportunity because none of us are perfect. We’ve all fallen short. That’s the bottom line. Some things are considered, obviously, worse than others, I get that, in the eyes of the beholder. But none of us are perfect.”
Herrera has seen little game action since he was arrested in May 2019 in Atlantic City and charged with simple assault and knowingly causing bodily harm. A police report said Herrera’s 20-year-old girlfriend had handprint markings on her neck and scratches on her arms. Charges were dropped two months later when Herrera’s girlfriend declined to press charges and Herrera agreed to attend counseling.
He was suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, was removed from the 40-man roster, and started last season in minor-league spring training. He was not added last summer to the team’s 60-player pool, seeming to indicate that the Phillies were building a case to move on from Herrera based on “baseball reasons.”
Herrera played two games this winter in the Dominican Republic, injured his groin, and reported earlier this month to Clearwater. He is one of 18 players in the team’s minicamp, which supplies the major-league camp with additional players in the absence of minor-league spring training.
He will train with the major-league players, likely play in major-league spring games, and compete for a job on the major-league roster.
“He will have the opportunity and he has to prove himself,” Girardi said.
Herrera is in the final guaranteed year of a $30.5 million contract, the remaining $15.2 million of which he will receive regardless of whether he plays again or not. It seemed unlikely a few months ago, but there’s now a chance Herrera could earn the rest of his millions while playing in Philadelphia.
Center field is the team’s lone position left unsettled and a decision will be made after a six-week competition in Florida. Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, and Scott Kingery shared the duties last season but combined to hit .210 with a .582 OPS.
It remains likely that one of those players is starting in center field on opening day, but none of the three begins camp as a front-runner. Enter Herrera, who played center field for five seasons and was an All-Star in 2017. He batted .286 with a .777 OPS through his first 3½ seasons but hit just .217 with a .625 OPS in the next 1½ seasons before his arrest.
“We all know what Odubel’s capable of on the field. A lot of us have been with him for a little while now. He’s a good player,” Nola said. “I mean, we know he can help us win ballgames, and that’s what we’re focused on. But I know he’s learned from his decisions and he’s had to do what he’s had to do. I think he’s in a good place right now for himself. I think, baseball-wise, he can definitely help us win. I mean, the guy’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve seen on a field.”
Herrera was no longer in the starting lineup when he was arrested in 2019 and no longer resembled the rising star who signed a big contract less than three years earlier. He was struggling for an entire calendar year.
The Phillies are not sure what Herrera’s skills are now, Girardi said. Six weeks in Clearwater will provide a better picture. And it could end with him returning to the major leagues, where Herrera could find fans who are reluctant for him to return.
“I think everyone’s going to have a different opinion on this. And I’m OK with that,” Girardi said. “I mean, my opinion, your opinion, this outfielder’s opinion, this infielder’s opinion, it’s all going to be different. But there are a lot of situations in life that are like that. That we all have to deal with. So, whatever happens, we have to find a way to deal with it. Right?
“So it will be a topic of conversation. It will be a pulse that I’m always checking in the room to make sure that guys are OK. But we are not allowed to keep a player from being a participant because maybe someone doesn’t like him.”