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Raising Questions

Could Yelich rumors send a message to Odubel Herrera?

In the summer of 2000, the Sixers famously had an agreement in place to trade Allen Iverson.

This is the same Allen Iverson who was one of the five best talents in the NBA. The same Allen Iverson who led the Sixers to the second round of the playoffs two years in a row. The same Allen Iverson destined for greatness.

But the Sixers had enough. Enough of the childish behavior, enough of the late arrivals and no-shows for practice and team events, and they had an agreement to trade him. But thanks to an impassioned speech from Iverson – and a pesky trade kicker in Matt Geiger’s contract – the deal fell through, Iverson stayed with the Sixers and then led them to the NBA Finals the next season.

Eighteen years later, another precocious young Philadelphia athlete – although not nearly on Iverson’s level of stardom or ability, and not nearly as mercurial – could be faced with a similar fate. Odubel Herrera is watching as the Phillies reportedly continue a yearlong (or more) flirtation with Miami Marlins’ center fielder Christian Yelich. The young star is the object of trade talks around the league as the odd man out in Miami, the last star left on an imploded team. The Phillies, starved for offense, are of course interested. Their name continues to pop up whenever the Yelich rumors are broached. And why not? Yelich is a durable, young, run-producer signed to a team-friendly contract through 2021 (with a team option for 2022). He’s a very good defender who was one of the stars for the USA’s World Cup-winning team in 2017. He just turned 26 and has a career on-base percentage of .369.

Yelich is exactly what the Phillies are looking for. But they’ve already got a crowded outfield, so trading for him would be difficult.

Unless they made Herrera part of the package, that is.

When you look at any logical breakdown of a Yelich trade, Herrera makes sense as part of the package the Marlins would get back from the Phillies. His potential is vast and his talent already has put him in an All-Star Game. He can step in for the Marlins and replace Yelich in center and in the lineup. His contract is worth $20 million fewer than Yelich’s and has an extra team option in 2023.

For the Phillies, it somewhat solves their crowded outfield issue and inserts Yelich safely into the No. 2 or No. 3 lineup slot that Herrera occupies. They don’t lose any defense, and they pick up a proven on-base machine the front office covets.

Perhaps most importantly, they would shave the well-documented antics of Herrera, whose propensity to fall asleep on the diamond – running into outs, not running out sure outs, taking bad routes on balls – had drawn the ire of former manager Pete Mackanin and earned Herrera sporadic benchings. (Please note: the words “bat flip” did not enter anywhere into those reasons why anyone got angry with him.)

Go ahead and Google “Odubel Herrera Pete Mackanin.” Never mind, I just did it for you. The entire first page comes up with headlines like this:

Maybe this is a media exaggeration from a press corps so desperate for something to write about with a thoroughly news-less team they latched onto whatever they could find. But why would the Phillies deal with this distraction if they not only can get out from under it, but also acquire a player they knew they could count on more than they could count on Herrera?

So perhaps this is up to the Phillies: What would it cost them to dump Herrera’s baggage on someone else? Surely any trade wouldn’t be just for Herrera, especially since the Marlins already have a young center-fielder-in-waiting in Braxton Lee. The Marlins will want something else, and it’s up to the Phillies as to whether the price justifies ridding themselves of Herrera. Sixto Sanchez won’t be moving in any deal, but you can bet the Marlins asked for him, and how hard the Phillies thought about it probably is a reflection on how much they value Herrera as a long-term piece of this franchise. Only the front office knows the answer to that.

The fact that Herrera still is a Phillie means the front office is willing to deal with the entire Odubel package, for better or worse. Or maybe the Marlins never even mentioned his name, and are looking to pry away Nick Williams. Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this, maybe Herrera is untouchable and the Phillies haven’t traded for Yelich yet because they’re trying to figure out how to play four starting outfielders at three positions.

But I don’t think that’s the case.

Herrera can’t match Iverson’s talent in any way, shape or form. But he may have to face the same reality Iverson faced in the summer of 2000. The Phillies in this offseason probably flirted with trading away Odubel Herrera for reasons that have nothing to do with his ability and have everything to do with his professional behavior.

Perhaps Herrera would welcome a trade. But if he wants to stay in Philadelphia, he should probably take a history lesson from Iverson and consider his act on the field. (Even if it only lasts for a season or two.)

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