The Phillies had a former All-Star at their disposal during the 2020 season whom they paid roughly $2.7 million and he never even got a sniff of the team’s alternate-site camp up in Allentown. The player, we should add, was perfectly healthy and he might have helped at a position that was arguably the team’s weakest.
Remember Odubel Herrera?
The Phillies, under Matt Klentak, chose to forget him during the 2020 season, and that is strange because the former general manager was the guy who excitedly signed Herrera to a five-year deal worth $30.5 million just before Christmas in 2016. Herrera’s metrics during his first two seasons made the Phillies' newly implemented analytical front office feel as if they could be saving money on a rising star by signing the then-24-year-old Venezuelan to a long-term deal before he reached his salary arbitration and free-agent years.
Instead, Herrera regressed. El Torito hit .290 with a .346 on-base percentage, .787 OPS, 107 doubles, 14 triples, and 50 home runs in his first 518 games. Those numbers were good enough to justify Klentak’s decision. But in his final 74 games in 2018 and his 39 games in 2019, Herrera hit .209 with a .268 on-base percentage and .603 OPS.
Those numbers made it easy for everyone, including the Phillies, to wave goodbye after Herrera was suspended for 85 games by Major League Baseball following a domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend on Memorial Day 2019 in Atlantic City. That was fine. Herrera made his own mess and even if his penalty was harsher than it was for some other players involved in worse incidents, he deserved to be punished. He did the time and now he deserves another chance to play the game he loves.
The mystifying part is that Klentak and the Phillies did not give it to him in 2020. Klentak’s take on the matter last offseason and in spring training was that the center-field dynamic had changed during Herrera’s suspension and that he would have to earn his way back to the big leagues.
Adam Haseley, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, had arrived in Philadelphia and shown promise in 2019 while the oft-injured Roman Quinn finished the 2019 season strong. In 2020, however, neither player was overly impressive.
Haseley and Quinn combined for two home runs, which was also the total hit by all the team’s center fielders. That was the fewest in baseball. The Phillies' center fielders were also in the bottom third in almost every offensive category.
In fairness, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Phillies from sending Herrera to a minor-league team where he would have had a chance to play his way back to the big leagues. But the fact that he did not even get an invitation to the camp in Allentown tells me that the Phillies have pretty much given up on Herrera, and that seems foolish considering the money they still owe him.
“That was strange,” Phillies senior adviser Larry Bowa said. “Nobody is condoning what Odubel did, but it seemed like the perfect time to give him another chance with no fans in the stands. I got to know Odubel pretty well when I was coaching and I talked to him in spring training and he knew how badly he messed up. I believe he was truly sorry and I’m also a guy who believes in giving second chances.”
Bowa also believes it was a mistake for the Phillies to let Juan Samuel leave as a coach after the 2017 season because he had a positive influence on Herrera.
“Sammy stayed on him all the time,” Bowa said. “He was constantly talking to him. Look, I’m not saying Odubel was a game-changer, but with his ability to hit for power, steal bases, and hit left-handed pitching, he could have an impact on the game.”
It’s possible that Herrera will never again be the player he was during his first 3½ seasons with the Phillies, but it’s also possible that his deserved punishment has made him a better man and a more focused baseball player.
A baseball source close to Herrera described him as being in incredible shape and yearning to get back on the field. Instead of whining about being left off the Phillies' 60-man player pool during the season, he concentrated on making himself better. The source said he is also still with his girlfriend, Melany Martinez-Argulo.
As of right now, Herrera is scheduled to play winter ball in his native Venezuela for Tigres de Aragua. He was traded to that team from Tiburones de La Guaira during the summer. Reports in August indicated that the Venezuelan season could be delayed or postponed because of COVID-19. The country, of course, has myriad problems beyond the virus.
The baseball source said Herrera, who turns 29 next month, just wants to play this winter to prove that he still can. The Phillies, meanwhile, have a decision to make for next season. They owe Herrera $10.3 million and, like many teams, seem eager to keep the payroll down after a condensed season without attendance revenue. Only Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Aaron Nola are slated to make more than Herrera in 2021.
If the Phillies decide they do not want to give Herrera a second chance and do not find any takers on the trade market, they should release him and let him seek employment elsewhere. It would be the right thing to do.