With the kickoff of the 2021 Major League baseball season just a little over three ways away, the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves stuck firmly between a proverbial rock and a hard place. On a roster jam-packed with star-level talent, from Bryce Harper to J.T. Realmuto to Didi Gregorious, the holes in the organizational depth chart are relatively few and far between. Offseason additions to their bullpen and starting rotation look to solidify the pitching staff and the new pitching coach, Caleb Cotham, should do well in playing to his pitcher’s strengths.
That being said, there is still one position that is very much up in the air, that being centerfield. The competition, though deep, is not necessarily fierce: Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, and Mickey Moniak all saw playing time in the Phillies outfield last year, but none played at a high enough level to set themselves apart from the pack.
That being said, there is another name, a rather dubious one at that, vying for time atop the Phillies depth chart, a name that carries with it a relatively successful track record at the major league level. That name would be none other than Odubel Herrera, a one-time fixture atop the Phillies lineup who saw his career halted by a domestic abuse case back in 2019. At this point in time, the Phillies find themselves facing a fairly pivotal decision: what do they do with Odubel Herrera, and where does he fit into their plans moving forwards?
Addressing a Need
The Phillies are not in a good place right now out in centerfield. Each of the contenders for the position carries some fairly significant question marks to their name:
Haseley should be the hands-on favorite to win this positional battle. Through 107 career games, Haseley has shown that he can impact the game in a multitude of ways, whether it be hitting for average, out on the base paths, or occasionally flashing signs of power at the plate. However, staying healthy has been an issue for Haseley, as he has battled hip flexor and wrist injuries the last two years, and is currently out four weeks with a groin strain. It’s a shame; Haseley had shown up to camp looking considerably stronger than in years past and looked to be off to a good start through three spring training games.
Roman Quinn has long been an enigmatic player on the Phillies roster. Power, speed, approach – the tools are all there for Quinn to be an impact producer atop the Phillies lineup. In just forty-one games in 2020, Quinn was a perfect 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts. Were he to keep that pace up over a full 162 game season, we’re looking at a forty-plus stolen base season. Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, much in the same vein as Adam Haseley, Quinn has been unable to stay consistently healthy over the past few seasons.
— Hunter Brody (@Brodes81) March 10, 2021
Scott Kingery enters 2021 with his career very much at a crossroads. Coming off a strong 2019 season, Kingery turned in one of the game’s worst statistical performances in 2020, hitting a paltry .159 while striking out nearly one out of every three at-bats. Of particular concern was Kingery’s proclivity at whiffing at off-speed pitches (30.99%). It’s a multi-year trend that simply can’t be ignored at this point. To this point in spring training, Kingery has once again been snake-bitten by the strikeout (7 K’s in 16 AB’s). It’s beginning to look more and more like Kingery isn’t the sort of player that the Phillies envisioned he would grow into when they signed him to a six-year/$24 million deal back in 2018.
Selected with the first overall pick back in the 2016 MLB Draft, Moniak has seen his career progress at a snail’s pace and he’s coming off a rocky cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2020. Moniak possesses an intriguing skill set, blending power and speed together, but he strikes out an awful lot and his defense is, to say the least, suspect.
All in all, not a great mix. Moniak carries some intrigue as you have to wonder whether or not he’s finally figured out how to put it all together and whether or not he’ll ever justify that first overall selection a few years back (he has a long way to go to catch up to the impact made by fellow draft-mates Pete Alonso and Shane Bieber). To this point, Moniak has been outstanding in spring training and perhaps is ready to make that leap to the majors.
An Argument for Odubel Herrera
However, when Odubel Herrera comes in and does this…
Odubel Herrera first HR of the spring
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) March 4, 2021
…it makes you understand why the Phillies would entertain trotting him back out to centerfield. Manager Joe Girardi and new general manager Dave Dombrowski weren’t here when shit hit the proverbial fan back in 2019: they don’t have the past experience with Odubel Herrera that we do. Playing Herrera is going to be a hell of a lot more palatable to them than to us. In a vacuum, when you subtract all of the off-the-field storylines surrounding Herrera, he is far and away the best centerfielder in the Phillies organization. Were it that simple, the Phillies would absolutely embrace slotting Herrera into their lineup on an everyday basis.
The Argument Against Odubel Herrera
Here’s the thing, though: the off-the-field storylines, primarily being the domestic abuse case, are a major factor in this decision. Herrera will be a toxic presence in the Phillies organization. There’s no way around that. He could behave absolutely perfect moving forward, but that stigma will remain there. Some people, many people, will never accept him again. And, to be honest, they have every right to feel that way. You simply can’t have him be part of the team moving forward. That’s to say nothing of the effect his presence will have on the Philadelphia fanbase. Herrera has a long way to go in regaining the trust within his own clubhouse. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s even possible at this point.
Bryce Harper on Odubel Herrera
“I don’t agree with what he did. I don’t condone it. Something that just can’t happen…
But I’m not the maker. I’m not the person who can make the decision to forgive him or not forgive him. I’m not God. I’m going to let Odubel do his thing” pic.twitter.com/DXoORbD0x7
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) March 5, 2021
Judging from his tone, it doesn’t seem that Bryce Harper is fully onboard with the team bringing Herrera back. The last thing the Phillies want is to create friction within their own clubhouse. Is Herrera worth the backlash you’ll get from his teammates and from the Philadelphia fans, many of whom want absolutely no part of Herrera in their organization? Is he worth potentially splitting your own clubhouse between those for and those against him?
Moving Forwards Without Odubel Herrera
Though it’s been a small sample size, Herrera has had a successful spring training thus far. He’s displaying a lot of the talent that made him such an exciting prospect a few years ago.
The Phillies’ best bet is to allow Herrera to continue raking during spring training. Let him build his trade value and then ship him out to another team. Let Mickey Moniak patrol center for a few weeks at the big league level. See how he fairs. If he struggles, you’ll have Adam Haseley coming back soon to relieve him if need be. It’s sort of like the Boston Red Sox back in 2013 when they trial ran a young Jackie Bradley Jr.. Was he ready? They weren’t sure. They gave it a go and then determined that he needed some more time in the minors. Take the same approach with Moniak. Let him play and see what you have.
Does Herrera deserve a second chance elsewhere in professional baseball? Deserve carries a lot of weight to it; I’m not sure anybody who does what Herrera did deserves a second chance to play a professional sport, making millions of dollars while doing so. That second chance can’t come with Philadelphia, though.
— Daniel Primiani (@DanPrimiani15) March 8, 2021