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Aaron Nola on Odúbel Herrera: ‘I believe in second chances’


Will Odubel Herrera get a second chance with the Phillies? (Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola, believe it or not, is one of the longest-tenured players on the team. His voice carries weight in the clubhouse, specifically on issues like Odúbel Herrera potentially getting a second chance with the club.

While there’s certainly a public relations standpoint that the Phillies will have to manage if Herrera returns to the team in 2021 – almost two years after his arrest and eventual suspension for a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend – they’ll also have to build consensus within the clubhouse that he’s improved himself to the point that he deserves the opportunity to rejoin the team he was once an All-Star representative of.

That makes Nola’s assertion Wednesday that Herrera both deserves a second chance and could help the team to contend in 2021 significant.

“I think everybody has their opinion, but I would [welcome him back]. I believe in second chances,” Nola said. “We all know what Odúbel is capable of on the field. A lot of us have been with him for a little while now and he’s a good player…we know he can help us win ballgames and that’s what we’re focused on. But I know he’s learned from his decision, and he’s had to do what he’s had to do, so I think he’s in a good place right now for himself, and I think baseball wise, he can definitely help us win. I mean the guy is one of the most athletic guys I’ve seen on a field.”

It should be noted that some things look worse in text than they sound. Nola appeared very in touch with the significance of Herrera’s offense. When he said “that’s what we’re focused on,” it wasn’t said at the expense of grasping how wrong Herrera’s actions were. Nola also noted that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, he believes his teammates would be accepting of Herrera if he earned a spot on the team.

Herrera’s ability to earn a spot on the team, of course, is very much a question mark. He hasn’t played for the Phillies since May of 2019, and he was hitting just .222 before his arrest. That followed him posting a disastrous .622 OPS after the All-Star Break in 2018. When you couple how poorly he played in his most recent action with the fact he hasn’t played in a game in almost two years, the jury is very much out on whether Herrera could make an impact, even if you’re willing to grant him a second chance. Remember, Herrera isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he’d have to be so impressive that the Phillies would add him back onto it (and remove someone else).

That said, Herrera was an All-Star in 2016. He once had a 45-game on-base streak. For as cold as he gets when things aren’t going well, he can carry a team for a couple weeks when he’s locked in. Even prior to his legal trouble, Herrera was a very flawed player, but one that’s accomplished more than Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery combined at the major league level. This is a complex discussion, but from a baseball sense, the Phillies have a ton of uncertainty in center field, and Herrera could potentially help fix that. Nola has never played on a winning team – let alone a playoff team – and the fact that he seems to believe that Herrera could be a difference maker probably is noteworthy.

Joe Girardi had a very nuanced take on Herrera Wednesday, but among the most noteworthy things that he said is that the Phillies really don’t know what the 29-year-old is as a player at this stage. He was ultimately suspended for 85 games in 2019. Last year, he was at minor league camp, and even that was cut short by the initial outbreak of COVID-19. He was never added to the satellite squad during the 2020 season, let alone on the major league roster. It’s tough to know what Herrera has done baseball wise in his time away from the game.

For what it’s worth, though, Nola said he’s recently seen Herrera, and that the former Rule-5 Draft selection appears to be in good shape physically.

“He looks good, he looks really good. He looks in shape for sure. He looks like Odúbel. I haven’t seen him hit really…hit or field, because I haven’t been watching him from that standpoint because we’ve all been scattered around the past several days…but I’m definitely excited to see him back on the field.”

It’s entirely possible that if Herrera struggles in spring training, it will finally give the organization a chance to release him without the fear of Herrera filing a grievance. But if he looks good in camp, the Phillies will have a decision to make. Will he break camp with the team, which would require him being added back to the 40-man roster? Will he head to either Triple-A or the satellite squad with the Phillies continuing to consider him, especially if the trio of Kingery, Haseley and Quinn can’t solidify the position?

One thing is for sure, as the Phillies enter a season where they will try to avoid missing the postseason for the 10th consecutive year, Herrera has emerged as the dominant storyline early in spring training. Nola’s comments will make Herrera’s future an even more debated topic.

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