From the time of his arrival for his first spring training as an unknown Rule 5 draft pick, Odubel Herrera's presence has always been felt. The feelings about that presence have often been conflicting, but, as general manager Matt Klentak once said, "Odubel is anything but boring."
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Herrera did become a bit of a bore, if not entirely invisible, when the team needed him the most this season. After being the team's best position player in his first three seasons, Herrera was a huge reason why the Phillies raced out of the gate this season and unexpectedly rejoined the National League East race following a six-year hiatus.
In fact, if the season had ended on May 19, he would have been the National League MVP. He was hitting .353 at the time with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 42 games. He had an on-base streak of 45 games that dated to last year and he was literally stealing home runs from the shrubbery in center field. It seemed as if he was on the verge of superstardom.
Since then, he has played so poorly that he was losing playing time to Roman Quinn until the cruel baseball gods sidelined the rookie once again with a fractured little toe on his right foot. From the end of his on-base streak in May up until Friday night's series opener against Miami, Herrera was hitting .216 with a .263 on-base percentage and a .633 OPS in 92 games. His defense has also taken a step or two in the wrong direction.
This will be the first time in his four seasons with the Phillies that Herrera does not rank among the team's top three players in WAR (wins above replacement), and that's not just because they have better players this season. Quinn, who is a year younger than Herrera and more adept at running down balls in the outfield, returned to the lineup Friday night, and if the Phillies are wise, they will give him the bulk of the playing time in center field for the remainder of the season.
So where does that leave Herrera going forward?
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The best guess is that he will still be around when the 2019 season begins because he still has three years remaining on a team-friendly contract. The Phillies still view him as a solid big-league player with outstanding durability. Quinn might be better, but, given his injury history, the Phillies cannot afford to go into a season counting on him as an everyday player.
"We now have almost four full seasons of data on Odubel Herrera," Klentak said. "There's no denying he is prone to red-hot streaks and ice-cold streaks. But the body of work from year to year has been pretty consistent with his OPS being between the .780 and .740 range. He's comparably good against left-handed and right-handed pitching and comparably good at home and on the road."
All of that is true, but there is no denying that this has been Herrera's worst year, even though he will finish with a career-high total of home runs and RBIs. In fact, heading tinto Friday, his 21 home runs and 65 RBIs rank fifth among major-league center fielders and his .740 OPS is a respectable 12th.
"I think one of the developments for Odubel this year is that the power he has had in the past has developed into home run power," Klentak said. "A year ago, he hit a lot more doubles and now some of those doubles are going out of the park. That's part of his growth as a player. On the flip side, he is stealing a lot fewer bases than he did as a younger player, but that is not all that uncommon."
Herrera, 26, has three years and $25.55 million remaining on his contract. It's entirely possible that the Phillies will try to trade Herrera in the offseason, in which case an opposing teams could find those contractual terms and his full body of career work attractive. It seems likely that the Phillies will attempt to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency or pursue a trade for Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.
They still believe that Odubel Herrera is a good player, even though he can also be a maddening one. They also know they are in need of a great player, and it's clear that their terrific selection from the 2014 Rule 5 draft is not consistent enough to achieve that status.
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