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December 16, 2016

Phillies Notes: In defense of Herrera's ... defense; Klentak talks FA hitters

The Phillies locked up Odubel Herrera to a team-friendly deal that could keep him in their uniform for as much as seven more seasons.

Now, to dispel a couple of common misconceptions.

Mickey Moniak is not arriving to the major leagues in 2017. He was still walking through the halls of La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School six months ago. He only turned 18 in May. Moniak may very well turn into a top flight prospect who graduates to the big leagues in quick fashion, but even the most generous prognosticator would pin that to 2019 or 2020.

Odubel Herrera, a talented proven big league center fielder is not blocking the path of any prospect, and even if and when Moniak arrives it’s not a bad problem to have two very good players at a premium position. As for the collection of minor leaguers who are closer to the big leagues, let’s not forget that even the highest rated of prospects don’t always pan out. Locking down the organization’s *one proven big league* outfielder was a smart and sensible decision by the Phillies brass.

“If sometime down the road we have too many good center fielders, that's a good problem to have,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said when asked Friday about an 18-year-old possibly coming for the job of the player he just locked up to a long-term deal. “We have to make decisions on our major-league club here and now. As much as we love Mickey Moniak and some of the other players in our minor-league system, they're still prospects. Moniak has played half a season in the (Gulf Coast League). Herrera has earned this opportunity with two consistent years at the big-league level and for that, he's being rewarded.”

• Odubel Herrera is the Phillies center fielder, not Roman Quinn and not Aaron Altherr or anyone else. Sure, there were whispers at one point last summer about Altherr (whose greatest strength is his defense) pushing Herrera to a corner. But Herrera never played a single inning anywhere other than center field last year. And, according to Phillies people, Herrera also grades out better defensively in center than Quinn, also a converted infielder. And Quinn has yet to prove he can be durable over the course of a half a season, let alone a full season.

But, again, Herrera is actually a better defensive player than the perception from a large portion of fans (who admittedly cannot forget his theatrics in Cole Hamels’ no-hitter in two Julys ago). The Rawlings Gold Glove Award (once awarded to Bobby Abreu!) has smartly added an analytics component in recent years and it was that component that helped Herrera land on the list of three finalists for the award last month.

Twice this offseason both Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin spoke in defense of Herrera’s defense in center field. Including on Friday at Citizens Bank Park:

“The only problem I have with Odubel is where to hit him in the lineup, first, second or third,” Mackanin said. “That’s the only think I worry about because he goes out there and plays with energy, which is the most important aspect of our team, any team. For having never having played center field in the past, he’s darn good at it. All the statistics and analytics show that.”

And Klentak: 

 "I always maintain that it’s up to the manager to write up the lineup, but I’ll say this about Odubel: this is a guy that has only played in the outfield for two years. He had a couple of brief stints in the outfield in the minors with the Rangers, but his full-time experience in the outfield is limited to two years. What he’s able to do in his first step quickness, his acceleration time, getting up to peak speed in the outfield, all of those components rank as one of the top outfielders in the league. 

"When you combine that with the fact that we believe he is still learning to play the outfield and become more familiar with how to play the outfield and read balls, that kind of combination of factors makes us really confident that he is going to continue to be a dynamic center fielder. Pete will always have the ability to write up the lineup card and put players where he thinks they are best, but we feel really strong about Odubel’s future in center field.”

'We're still exploring the idea of adding another bat'

It’s very likely that the Phillies go into hibernation for the next two weeks with the Christmas holiday approaching and a lot of business already taken care of this offseason.

In the first six weeks of the offseason the Phillies have added two veteran relief pitchers (Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek), retaining the veteran in their starting staff (Jeremy Hellickson), adding a proven, professional hitter for the middle of the lineup (Howie Kendrick), and keeping a veteran leader on the bench, too (Andres Blanco).

Even the week since the Winter Meetings we continue to have dialogue with agents and teams to see what opportunities may present themselves. ... There's a variety of different ways we can go.

With all of those moves in the rear-view mirror, and a 40-man roster filled to the brim, is it possible the Phillies’ work is complete until they arrive in Clearwater?

“Not necessarily,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “Obviously we have the commitment of our ownership that if there's an opportunity out there that we have the financial support to do it. Right now the balance, as we talked about at the Winter Meetings, is, do we give opportunities to players outside, or give opportunities to our young players who need opportunities at the big-league level?

“Even the week since the Winter Meetings we continue to have dialogue with agents and teams to see what opportunities may present themselves. We're still exploring the idea of adding another bat, but we may not do it. We could add another bullpen arm or we may not. There's a variety of different ways we can go. Whichever way we end up going it's going to be for the right reasons.”

Interesting choice of words from the GM, eh? “Commitment of our ownership” and “financial support” to pursue another bat.

There are plenty of bats remaining on the free agent market, from the less-heralded bargain bin types (Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus, Brandon Moss, James Loney) to the premium home run-hitting thunder (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo).

The Phils weren’t expected to be major players for big names this winter, because they’re not likely to contend in the next two years, but more importantly, they do not want to commit long-term to 30-something players and block the paths of their bounty of near-major-league-ready prospects.

But. Is the translation of what Klentak said Friday that the Phils could jump in on a bigger name if the free agent market continues to stagnate and one of those players is amenable to a one-year deal? Here is how Klentak answered that very query:

“We continue to prioritize roster flexibility and payroll flexibility so players that are in position to sign shorter term contracts are going to be more appealing to us,” he said. “We've demonstrated that with Howie and Neshek and Benoit and Hellickson and Blanco. I think that's something likely we will continue moving forward.”

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