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January 18, 2021

Odubel Herrera making more and more sense to return to Phillies

Phillies are having internal discussions about bringing back the All-Star outfielder

Does Odubel Herrera deserve a second chance in Philadelphia? That's really not up to me, or to the fans, or even to Herrera himself. It's up to the Phillies.

After a domestic abuse issue cost him his job two seasons ago (after an 85-game suspension), the Phillies were forced to pull the then struggling centerfielder from the lineup and there were a myriad of baseball consequences. 

Herrera's legal issues likely forced the Phillies' hand into relying on first-round picks Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak in the outfield before each may have been ready. After playing in 39 games, Herrera's absence forced the 2019 Phillies to play a ridiculous 14 different players in the outfield. 

Last offseason, the team was open to his return, but COVID-19 more or less shut the door on that as spring training was halted and the minor leagues were cancelled.

With 2021 on the horizon, the Phillies are no closer to having a solution in centerfield. Last season, over the truncated 60-game schedule, Philly's centerfielders combined to hit .246, with just two home runs and and 16 RBI. They struck out 59 times while walking 13. Yuck.

With J.T. Realmuto likely begging the attention of the Phillies free agent dollars and an arguably bigger and more pressing opening at shortstop, there is a good chance center is manned once again by a committee approach, combining utility man Scott Kingery with Haseley and Roman Quinn (who is out of minor league options). That is unless they are willing to give Herrera a shot at redemption.

During the 2020-21 Dominican Winter League, Herrera played in two games with the Gigantes and got a pair of hits in seven at bats. But that's really it, as far as actual on-the-field experience since his leaving the Phillies two years ago, due in part to the pandemic but also in part to his off-the-field issues. 

Herrera is just 29. And the Phillies are stuck paying him $10.4 million in 2021. He is technically under contract in both 2022 and 2023 also, but the Phils can buy him out for $3.5 million.

Until now he was a sunk cost. But the Phillies might be financially smart to at least extend another spring training invite to the former All-Star to see what he still has. That is, of course, if the team thinks he is worthy of it.

According to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Herrera's return has been discussed internally by the Phillies and is a very real possibility. 

"I know he has done a lot himself, as far as addressing the situation," Dombrowski told media members Monday. He also says that Herrera has gone through counseling. 

Herrera was dreadful in 2019, perhaps because he was distracted. He hit .222 and had just one homer in more than a full month. But in his first four MLB seasons, Herrera averaged 15 homers and 54 RBI while hitting .279 and playing a solid defensive centerfield. 

We'll have to see what the Phillies elect to do, with regard to their remaining free agent needs. But it seems clear that a Herrera return may be in the cards for a team looking to both compete and keep their costs down.

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