On Jan. 21, 2007, the Phillies signed Chase Utley to a seven-year, $85 million contract extension. At the time Utley was 28 and coming off his second full season as the Phils’ starting second baseman. And his numbers up until that point: .290/.362/.509, 75 home runs, 285 runs batted in. Utley was clearly a star, a core piece of a new foundation for the Phillies.
Odubel Herrera is not Chase Utley, let’s just be up front about that. Still, to this day it’s easy to marvel at what the Phillies accomplished that winter day. They nabbed the best second baseman in baseball – and arguably the second- or third-best player in baseball – over his entire prime at a relative pittance.
Today the Phillies did nearly the same thing. They nabbed one of the best outfielders in baseball over his entire prime, and $30.5 million through 2021 (and up to $54.5 million through 2023) is potentially a steal.
First, it’s true that Herrera is one of the best outfielders in baseball. Over the last two seasons, only 10 outfielders rank ahead of Herrera in fWAR (7.8). The outfielder just ahead of him, Dexter Fowler, recently signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with St. Louis. Only a few spots behind Herrera is the Cubs’ Jason Heyward, who is signed through 2023 for a total of $184 million. To repeat, Herrera could be making up to $54.5 million over that same period, and those two final years are club option years.
Now, both Fowler and Heyward are more experienced. They had track records entering their recent paydays. But the Phillies are betting on Herrera’s 20s, unlike the Cardinals, who locked up Fowler’s age 31-35 seasons, and the Cubs, who have Heyward from age 26-33. Herrera’s profile – a singles hitter with gap power, good speed and a working glove – should peak somewhere in his mid-20s. By the time the Phils can move on from Herrera, he’d be just 29. Barring injury or any disastrous decline, the Phillies should get what they paid for far before the fifth year.
So five years and $30.5 million for a very good outfielder playing into his prime is a really good deal. It’s also the beginning of the next phase of the Phillies’ rebuild.
By extending Herrera for five years (and potentially seven), the Phillies’ front office is telling us that “El Torito” is part of the core. Maybe he’s not earning big home-run-hitter money, but Herrera is an up-the-middle talent with an exciting disposition and greater potential. And he’s supposed to be part of the team that could win the next world championship. Maybe he’s your leadoff hitter. Maybe he’s the seven-hole hitter. Wherever he falls, Herrera is the first piece of the puzzle put in place. Teammates and fans should look to him as a leader, a steady presence, and most importantly, the new face of the Philadelphia Phillies.
That last part may change. Maybe J.P. Crawford emerges soon. Maybe Aaron Nola becomes that stud ace. But for now, Odubel Herrera is the face of the rebuild, the highly charged spark that flips bats, swats occasional bombs, makes circus catches and flashes bull horns at the helmet.
Like Chase Utley a decade ago, Odubel Herrera is now a core piece of a new foundation for the Phillies.