Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Joe Girardi asks for Odúbel Herrera to be given chance to show improved self

Odúbel Herrera isn’t at Philadelphia Phillies major league camp, but has been invited to mini-camp at Clearwater and will have a chance to prove himself on multiple fronts.

Odubel Herrera has been invited to Phillies mini-camp. (Cheryl Pursell)

Herrera hasn’t played for the Phillies since May of 2019, when he was arrested in Atlantic City after a domestic incident took place between him and his then-20-year-old girlfriend. The most notable portion of the police report alleged that “the victim had visible signs of injury to her arms and neck.” Herrera served an 85-game suspension in 2018 after his girlfriend chose not to move forward with a legal case against the outfielder.

Herrera faces an uphill battles in many senses, but most importantly he will have to attempt to prove that in the time since he last suited up for the Phillies, he’s changed as a person and is worthy of a second chance.

“I have talked to some of the players about it,” Joe Girardi said Wednesday. “And here’s really, to me, the important thing: this was collectively bargained between the commissioner and the players. So, he’s afforded a chance to prove to his teammates…to the fans of Philadelphia…the organization…that he is a changed person. The collective bargaining agreement allows for redemption. And he’s trying to earn a spot back.

“He’s also trying to earn the respect of a lot of people back, because obviously it took a hit when the domestic violence came out. So to me, it’s important that he proves himself to everyone. And he’s been afforded that chance because of the collective bargaining agreement.”

Girardi would cite the collective bargaining agreement on multiple occasions Wednesday, with the insinuation being that in many senses the Phillies had to at least invite him to the mini-camp. The thing is, the CBA hasn’t changed since last year, when Herrera wasn’t ever on the major league roster or even part of the team’s roster pool at Lehigh Valley.

It’s not immediately clear what may have caused the Phillies to invite Herrera to the mini-camp, which Girardi acknowledged could lead to the Phillies using him in some Grapefruit League games. On one hand, they may really want to gauge whether the former All-Star is capable of helping them in 2021. On the other hand, it’s possible that after so much time away from the sport, Herrera will really struggle in spring training, paving the way for the team to release him without fear of a grievance being filed. Maybe the Phillies would be content with either scenario playing out.

Girardi, entering his second season as Phillies manager, believes that there is quite a bit of nuance to the opinions that people – both inside and outside the organization – have on the possibility of Herrera getting a chance to redeem himself.

“I really haven’t gotten a sense that everyone is the same,” Girardi said when asked how players have responded to the idea of Herrera returning. “Some guys are going to be more forgiving, some guys are going to be less forgiving – that’s just the world we live in. But we’re playing by the rules. And in our society, we have rules for a reason and it’s important that we play by them.”

“I think everyone is going to have a different opinion on this – and I’m OK with that. My opinion…your opinion…this outfielder’s opinion…this infielder’s opinion…it’s all going to be different. But there are a lot of situations in life that are like that, which we all have to deal with. So, whatever happens, we gotta find a way to deal with it. So, it will be a topic of conversation…it will be a pulse that I’m always checking in the room to make sure that guys are OK…but we are not allowed to keep a player from being a participant because maybe somebody doesn’t like him.”

“I think that it’s important that I have the feeling of the clubhouse…that we do what’s best for the organization and for our team moving forward and the production that we can put out. I think it’s really important that we take these things into account, but again, the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow us to punish a player further than he’s already been punished. We’re not allowed to do that. So that was something that was negotiated, and that we all have to deal with.”

There’s, of course, a baseball side to this as well. Girardi admitted late in the 2020 season that neither Adam Haseley or Roman Quinn had locked themselves into being the everyday center fielder moving forward. Jean Segura is expected to be the starting second baseman, and while the Phillies still have high hopes for Scott Kingery, he’s struggled in two of his three major league seasons. He’ll have to earn any time he gets in center field or elsewhere. Perhaps some combination of that trio will prove adequate in center field, but in an otherwise stout lineup, center field is certainly the weakest position.

Could Herrera be the answer – or part of the answer – in center? No one really knows right now.

“He hasn’t played for a while” Girardi said. “His last time that he played was really in 2019. He struggled at the end of 2018…he struggled in the beginning of 2019…and we are just not sure of where he’s at physically and with his baseball skills.”

Herrera has slumped in his most recent game action. He hit just .214 with a meager .622 OPS after the All-Star Break in 2018. Before his arrest, Herrera had a cold start to the 2019 season, hitting just .222 in his first 126 at-bats. His defensive metrics have been all over the place throughout parts of five seasons with the Phillies.

Still, Herrera has accumulated 10.9 fWAR in his major league career. For as disastrous as his second half was in 2018, he had a 45-game on-base streak that was snapped in May of that same season. The 29-year-old will probably never be a consistent player, but just from a baseball sense, he is the type of player that can carry your lineup when he heats up. Or at least he was.

So the Herrera storyline figures to be at the forefront of spring training and perhaps beyond. There’s uncertainty about what he is as a player, and certainly mixed opinions on whether he deserves such an opportunity. In the end, Girardi would just like Herrera to be given a chance to show that he’s changed, specifically as a person.

“There may be guys that never have open arms,” Girardi admitted. “But I would ask that everyone gives him a chance to prove himself, that’s all. He’s got to prove himself to me as well, on a lot of different fronts. But I would ask that everyone gives him the opportunity because none of us are perfect. We’ve all fallen short, that’s the bottom line. Some things are considered obviously worse than others in the eyes of the beholder, I get that. But none of us are perfect.”


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