Each week, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to TSK@TimKellyMedia.com. Let’s get to this week’s question.
If Roman Quinn can stay healthy, who would you rather have in the starting lineup; him or Odubel Herrera? – Daniel Quinn, via Twitter
This question, like all related to how the lineup will look in 2019, is largely dependent upon whether Bryce Harper or Manny Machado ultimately signs with the Phillies.
If the Phillies elect to sign Machado over Harper – or simply don’t sign Harper or another outfielder – it’s very possible both Roman Quinn and Odubel Herrera will both be in the Opening Day starting lineup. The guess here is that Quinn would be in center field, with Herrera in right field, a position that he’s played at for just 53 innings in his career. (Don’t sleep on the adjustment Herrera would have to make if he moved to right field regularly, where the ball comes off the bat at an entirely different angle than it does in center field.)
However, if the Phillies do ultimately land Harper, he’ll be in right field. Andrew McCutchen, who the Phillies signed to a three-year/$50 million free-agent contract in December, will presumably occupy left field for 125 games (give or take). And at least one of Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr will be in the picture when the dust all settles.
Herrera slashed just .214 after the All-Star Break in 2018, with a .622 OPS. He opened the 2018 season with a 45-game on-base streak, the fourth longest streak in franchise history. However, that came after he appeared to come into Spring Training carrying some extra weight, and he dealt with a “rusty” shoulder in Spring Training. It wasn’t lost on anyone, Herrera included, that it was Altherr, not Herrera, who started in center field on Opening Day in Atlanta.
At the December MLB Winter Meetings, Kapler said that the Phillies are “demanding” that Herrera, entering his fifth season, come to Spring Training in the best shape of his career. As Phillies Nation‘s Matt Veasey noted earlier this month, Herrera has something to prove in 2019, and given that he’s been in Clearwater for at least half this month, he appears to be aware of that.
He was an All-Star in 2016, rewarded with a five-year extension ahead of the 2017 season and has had two incredible half seasons the last two years. The problem is that while he can carry a lineup when he’s locked in, he becomes the 25th most useful player on the roster when he’s not. And there’s not much of an in between. In May of 2017, he hit just .183 and struck out 30 times. After a scorching-hot start to the 2018 season, he was ineffective for the bulk of what had a chance to be a run to the postseason. Couple that with the fact that his defensive metrics – which were extremely strong his first three seasons – feel off a cliff in 2018, and this very much may be a prove-it year for the 27-year-old.
All that said, it would be a minor shock if Herrera wasn’t in the Opening Day lineup. Whether it’s in right field, center field or left field, the Phillies know how dangerous Herrera can be when things are going right. It would behoove Kapler to ride Herrera early on if things are going right.
It may not be the worst thing for Quinn to be a fourth outfielder to open the season. First of all, he would be extremely valuable off the bench. He’s a switch-hitter with elite speed that can play all three outfield positions (and the Phillies even experimented with him in the infield last spring). Contending teams often have a surplus of starting-caliber players – it’s a good problem to have. If someone in the Phillies outfield gets injured, Quinn is a very capable player. If Herrera goes into one of his cold stretches, Quinn can start in center.
All of this could prove to be a moot point if Quinn isn’t able to stay healthy. Quinn’s injury history is long. The Phillies recalled Quinn, who had missed over a month of the 2018 Triple-A season with a thumb injury, late last July. In just two months with the major league club, he dealt with a broken toe and a hamstring injury. This came after Quinn was limited to just 45 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017, preventing him from playing a game for the Phillies that season, despite flashing his potential with the big league club in September of 2016.
You are left with a few takeaways. The first is that even if Quinn is capable of being a starter, he could benefit from only starting a few times a week, at least early on in the season. Secondly, we’ve yet to encounter a time where Quinn is healthy and Herrera is forcing his way into the lineup at the same time. If that happens, you cross that bridge when you get there. But again, it would be a good problem to have.
To open the season, Herrera will likely get the right-of-first-refusal in center field. The guess here is that Quinn, assuming health, will be on the Opening Day roster. If that’s with Harper, Quinn will likely be a bench piece, with the Phillies left to decide whether Williams or Altherr fits best as the last outfielder on the roster. If it isn’t with Harper, then the possibility of Quinn being the Opening Day center fielder, with Herrera in one of the two corner spots, becomes real.
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