2:12pm: Herrera’s contract will be worth $1.75MM with another $750K in incentives, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic.
7:59am: The Phillies have reached an agreement to bring back center fielder Odubel Herrera on a Major League deal. The story emerged through tweets from Jim Salisbury of NBCSPhilly, Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Matt Gelb of The Athletic, and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. A center field platoon with Matt Vierling appears to be in the cards.
Herrera, 30, took over the regular center field job for the Phillies back in 2015 after being selected from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. He made the All-Star team the following year, and then inked a five-year, $30.5MM contract extension. Matt Klentak was the Phillies’ GM at the time. After a third straight solid year in 2017, Herrera powered up for a career-best 22 home runs in 2018 but didn’t finish particularly well and lost playing time. He showed impressive maximum exit velocities in each season up through 2018.
Entering a competition for the Phillies’ center field job in 2019, Herrera hit the IL with a hamstring strain in April. In May of 2019, Herrera was arrested in a domestic violence incident and charged with simple assault of his girlfriend. His girlfriend later declined to press charges. After reviewing the incident, MLB issued an 85-game suspension to Herrera that ran through the rest of the 2019 season. It stands as the third-longest domestic violence suspension MLB has given out.
In January 2020, with his suspension served, the Phillies designated Herrera for assignment. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A, but had $19.5MM remaining on his contract. With no minor league season in 2020, Herrera sat out until joining a Dominican Winter League team in November of that year. Last spring, Herrera emerged as the frontrunner for the Phillies’ center field job once again. Though he failed to make the team out of camp, they selected his contract in late April and he was ultimately the club’s primary center fielder by a wide margin despite an IL stint for ankle tendinitis. Upon re-adding Herrera to the team, manager Joe Girardi said, “We just felt it was time,” having not received objections from other Phillies players.
Faced with a $12.5MM club option or a $1MM buyout, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski chose the buyout back in November prior to the lockout. Several alternatives came off the board since then, with Byron Buxton and Michael A. Taylor signing extensions, Starling Marte signing with the Mets, and Jackie Bradley Jr. getting traded to the Red Sox.
Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander recently told Kevin Kiermaier to find a place near spring training, and furthermore, Jayson Stark of The Athletic says the Phillies are officially out on him. Other than Brett Gardner, who remains a free agent, options have become limited for the Phillies in center field. Teams continue to try to pry Bryan Reynolds loose from the Pirates, but with the season less than a month away the Phillies seem to have settled for Herrera once again.
Vierling, 25, played 34 games for the Phillies in 2021 as a rookie. Baseball America ranked Vierling eighth among Phillies prospects, noting big exit velocities and adding, “Vierling is an impressive athlete who can play both corner infield spots and anywhere in the outfield, with plus speed and above-average defense in center field to go with a plus arm.” Though Herrera, a left-handed hitter, hasn’t shown an extreme platoon split, former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler did deploy him in that way.
As a hitter, Herrera has a career wRC+ of exactly 100 and has sat in the 93-111 range in each season outside of 2019. A left-handed hitter, the Phillies increasingly shielded Herrera against southpaws until his post-suspension return, at which point he was not deployed in a platoon. Defensively, Herrera has generally graded well in Statcast’s Outs Above Average. Stats like Defensive Runs Saved have generally shown him to be average or better, outside of a down year in 2018. Herrera rated as one of the game’s slowest center fielders in 2021, with a sprint speed of 27.3 feet per second.