The Phillies took a step toward cutting ties with outfielder Odubel Herrera when he was designated for assignment on Tuesday.
The move immediately removes Herrera from the 40-man roster and makes room for outfielder Nick Martini, who was claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday.
The Phillies have seven days to decide a course of action with Herrera, who served an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy last season.
As a matter of procedure, Herrera will be placed on waivers and another team could claim him and the $20 million that remains on his contract. That, clearly, will not happen.
When Herrera clears waivers, he could be sent outright to the minor leagues. If he refuses the assignment, he would forfeit his salary and become a free agent. It is doubtful he would do that.
Other possible courses of action:
Herrera could be traded. That is doubtful, however, as the Phillies have made him available all winter and received no interest.
He could be released.
While releasing Herrera in the coming days remains a possibility, it seems more likely that the Phillies could allow him to participate in minor-league spring training camp, where he would continue to collect his salary and possibly regain a role in the organization or attract some trade interest with his play. Of course, releasing Herrera, with pay, at any point in minor-league camp remains an option for the Phillies.
Herrera was involved in a domestic assault incident in May in Atlantic City. Legal charges were dropped but Herrera was suspended by MLB. Herrera did not play for the Phillies after the incident and the team removed banners bearing his image from Citizens Bank Park.
By agreement between MLB and the Players Association, the Phillies cannot release Herrera for his infraction. He has already been punished and served his time. General manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday night that the decision to DFA Herrera was made for baseball reasons. After Herrera’s suspension last season, the Phils acquired outfielder Jay Bruce and brought up Adam Haseley from the minors. Last month, Klentak said he expected Haseley and Roman Quinn to get the bulk of the work in center field in 2020. Those comments were an indication that the Phils were moving toward parting with Herrera and Tuesday's DFA clearly puts him on the exit ramp though not at the end of it.
“The construction of our outfield now is very different than it was last spring when Odubel was first suspended,” Klentak said Tuesday night. “And on top of that, Odubel wasn’t very good the first couple months of last season.”
When contacted Tuesday night, the Players Association declined comment.
"I have no reason to believe they will object," said Klentak, stressing that there were sound baseball reasons for the decision.
Herrera, 28, is still owed $20 million — $7 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021 with two buyouts in 2022 and 2023 totaling $3 million.
His average salary of $6.1 million will count toward the competitive balance tax this season and next.
Over five seasons with the Phils, Herrera hit .288 with a .774 OPS in his first three seasons and his slugging percentage rose each season, but that's where he leveled off.
He's always been an unconventional player who extends the strike zone. When he's going well, he can turn pitches out of the strike zone into singles. When he's not, he's one of the easiest three-pitch outs in baseball.
Herrera was one of the least productive regulars in the majors in 2018-19, hitting .249/.306/.405 in 187 games.
Klentak and the Phillies signed Herrera to a five-year, $30.5 million contract in December 2016. He had completed just two big-league seasons and was a year away from the arbitration process but the Phillies thought they had an ascending talent so they locked him up early.
“It hasn’t played out exactly how we would have hoped,” Klentak said of the contract.
As for Martini, he has two seasons of big-league experience with the Athletics and Padres. He hit .226 with a .653 OPS last season for those clubs. He should provide outfield depth. He's had a successful run at Triple A, hitting .305 with a .401 on-base percentage in parts of five seasons. He will have a chance to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench in spring training.
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