SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Odubel Herrera, the Phillies’ forgotten man, is working out in Miami as he seeks to restart his career after an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
But can the Phillies, given all that has happened, actually ever put him back on the field again?
“I don't know the answer to that. I really don't,” general manager Matt Klentak said at this week’s annual general managers meetings. “I think the best thing I could say there is, because the landscape has changed, he's going to have to earn whatever he gets. He doesn't walk back in as the opening day center fielder.
“Right now, he’s on the 40-man roster and under contract so if camp started tomorrow, he would be there. What happens between now and February? I don’t know.”
Herrera, who turns 28 next month, was the Phillies’ starting center fielder for four-plus seasons before his suspension for an incident in May, and he has two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract. When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not have his contract voided. To move on from Herrera, the Phillies would have to eat the remainder of his salary and prove that they were releasing him for purely baseball reasons.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Klentak building that case.
“I think the most important thing to recognize with Odubel is the situation that he left in the spring when he was suspended and the situation he's coming back to are not the same,” Klentak said. “Because Scott Kingery went out there and played a well-above-average defensive center field for us for spurts last year. Adam Haseley came up from the minor leagues and did a really good job and we still have Roman Quinn, who when healthy is as dynamic as any player in the league. So, whereas Odubel had been the everyday center fielder for a handful of seasons, now all of a sudden there's more of a competition there so the landscape has changed.”
Herrera was an All-Star in 2016 but his performance has declined in subsequent seasons. Dating to August 2018, he has hit just .204 over his last 84 games.
The Phillies still have several months before they have to make a decision on Herrera and with five openings on the 40-man roster, they are not in immediate need of space. It is still possible that Herrera could be traded (with the Phillies eating the bulk of his salary and getting little in return), but other teams will face the same public scrutiny about taking on the player. The Phillies could also option Herrera to Triple A, but that would require keeping him on the 40-man roster and in the organization.
Klentak was careful to point out that Herrera “is an option for us.” But given the gravity of the situation and the time that has passed, one has to wonder if he really is. Time will tell.