You read that headline and said, “oh great, another hit piece on Odubel.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Herrera has been my favorite Phillie of the past three seasons and there hasn’t been a close second. Not even Rhys Hoskins. You can’t steal my love from Odubel that quickly. I’m not a monster.
But the writing is on the wall for the quirkiest, most unexpectedly entertaining Phillie of the past decade. Just because you want to look past or explain away the evidence doesn’t make it go away.
A recent post on The Good Phight made a cogent and well-reasoned argument that having four outfielders of starting quality isn’t a bad thing. Injuries happen, slumps happen, platoons happen, etc. Maybe. But aside from the few teams that have superstar outfielders like Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, it’s mostly a mix-and-match proposition for most teams because when you have three starting outfielders but no star, the fourth guy isn’t that much worse than one through three.
The Phillies don’t have a star of the caliber of Trout or Stanton. What they do have, though, is Hoskins, who is going to play 140+ games unless he gets injured or proves over four months that last season’s home run binge was an apparition. So functionally, it’s not four players going for three spots — it’s three players going for two. Here it pays to remember the Rule of Threesomes: When it’s over, two people will have taken up most of the attention and the other one always leaves a little (maybe a lot) disgruntled.
So Herrera is going to have to beat out Aaron Altherr or Nick Williams. We can agree that neither one of these players is an established Major League Baseball quantity as yet. And to be fair to Herrera, he has been remarkably consistent over his three seasons with the Phillies, at least when you look at the numbers at the end of the year. During the season, it can be another story entirely. Still, Herrera has slashed .288/.344/.430 over that time, with none of those statistics varying from those averages by more than .022 in any specific season. You know what you are getting with Herrera now, as long as you can tolerate his funks.
It’s the knowing what they’ll get from Herrera that will probably make the Phillies want to see what they can get from Altherr and Williams instead.
(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY)
Altherr has been an injury-plagued player in Philadelphia, but he finally got to play more than half of a season in 2017 and posted a .516 slugging percentage and an OPS of .856 in 107 games. Had Altherr sustained that OPS over a full season (or enough of a season to qualify), his .856 would have slotted in between Buster Posey and Corey Seager and ahead of established outfield studs like Andrew McCutchen and Christian Yelich. Altherr is 27. Herrera is 26. The Phillies have almost no choice but to see what Altherr can do with a full season at the plate if Altherr stays off the disabled list.
Williams is 24. Like Altherr, he hasn’t played a full season in the major leagues. In Williams’ case, that’s because the Phillies took their sweet time before finally calling him up in 2017. Once he got to Philadelphia, though, Williams showed he belonged in the majors. People rightly lost their minds over Hoskins’ home run deluge at the end of last season, but had Hoskins not done that the prevailing narrative about young Phillies talent this spring would almost certainly be written around Williams. He hit 12 home runs and drove in 55 runs in 83 games while hitting .288 and posting an OPS of .811.
There’s another thing at work here where Herrera and Williams are concerned. It’s not fair to Herrera, but it’s there. Williams came to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade with Texas. For most of you reading this, you already knew that, but humor the newbies. Anyway, seeing Hamels go was functionally seeing the last rites performed on the Phillies dynasty of 2007-2011. If you think Phillies fans aren’t emotionally tied to Williams (and to Jorge Alfaro, who came over in the same deal), you don’t know anything about them. The Phillies know this, and would like nothing better than to be able to say that parting with Hamels really was a brilliant move when they made it.
In an unrelated but relevant footnote, Herrera was acquired in the Rule 5 draft for $50,000. Granted, he is in the second year of the five-year, heavy dollar extension he signed after making the All-Star team in 2016:
Phils sign Odubel Herrera to 5-year extension worth $30.5 million, w/club options for 2022 (11.5 million) and 2023 (12.5 million). pic.twitter.com/TGjtXOhE8Q
— Marshall Harris (@mharrisNBCS) December 15, 2016
But having Hoskins, Altherr and Williams making comparably little money this season and for the foreseeable future, the Phillies can afford to eat Herrera’s deal if sitting him makes sense.
And here’s the thing…I don’t see El Torito sitting quietly and contentedly on the Phillies bench, or any bench for that matter. You can flip your bat like this, you don’t want to sit:
Which brings me to my last worry for Herrera. When Pete Mackanin managed the team, an outgrown personality like Herrera was a breath of fresh air for a team that had no pretense of competing and was just looking to make the next game they played as competitive and as occasionally enjoyable as possible. Very quickly, though, it seems those days are over.
The Phillies are expected to butt up against .500 in a depleted National League East where, except for the Washington Nationals, the other teams in the division all pretty much stink. The Phillies aren’t good yet, but that’s not stopping the national media from suggesting that if the dice fall correctly, the Phillies could sneak into wild card contention.
So the worst news for Herrera’s bid to stay here is the Phillies’ hiring of King Coconut to manage the team. Based on the small sample size of what we have seen so far, Gabe Kapler’s presence is going to suck the air out of the dugout all year, every day. He is going to be an unrelentingly positive and probably often manic persona in the clubhouse.
A young team trying to contend can’t have a me-first guy putting another me-first guy on the lineup card.
Herrera is going to have a productive and sometimes super-amusing career in the bigs. It’s just not likely to be here.