Baseball call or PR decision? Phillies leave Odubel Herrera off roster


Spring training is over and so is the biggest drama of Phillies camp.

Odubel Herrera did not make the team.

Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley prevailed in the much-watched competition for the team’s center field job.

Quinn is a switch-hitter. Haseley bats left-handed. It sets up for an early-season platoon. The Phillies are scheduled to see Atlanta lefty Max Fried in Thursday’s season opener at Citizens Bank Park. That could set up Quinn to get the start in that game, though manager Joe Girardi has not yet announced a lineup.

Girardi spoke with reporters moments after Monday’s spring training finale — a 13-7 loss to Toronto that dropped the Phillies to 0-8 on the spring against the Blue Jays — and said he was about to meet with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld to discuss who would claim the final spot on the 26-man roster, Herrera or Haseley.

About 90 minutes later, the team announced that Haseley had made the club and Herrera would report to the alternate training site in Lehigh Valley. That’s where the Phils will keep their top reserves until the minor-league season begins in early May.

Due to travel, neither Girardi nor a member of the front office leadership was available for comment after the announcement. The team will work out in Philadelphia on Tuesday and be off Wednesday before Thursday’s opener.

Opening day is a festive occasion and will be even more so this season as fans, kept away by COVID protocols last year, begin to return to the ballpark.

The event, or at least the pre-game introductions, might not have been so festive had Herrera made the team. He surely would have heard boos.

The 29-year-old outfielder has not played for the Phillies since late May 2019 when he was arrested in Atlantic City for assaulting his girlfriend. All legal charges were dropped and the couple remains together. Herrera went through extensive counseling and donated to causes dedicated to the prevention of domestic abuse.

Herrera received an 85-game suspension, without appeal, for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic abuse. He was removed from the 40-man roster after the season but remained in the organization because he was still under contract (he signed a five-year, $30.5 million deal before the 2017 season) and MLB, per agreement with the players union, prohibits releasing a player as punishment for a domestic abuse infraction. Per the agreement, players can be released only for baseball reasons.

Herrera went to minor-league camp last year, hoping to eventually earn a spot back in Philadelphia, but COVID shut the minor-league season down and he was out of sight, out of mind — until this winter.

Still under contract, Herrera was invited to Clearwater for a minicamp that ran concurrently with big-league spring training camp. He was given the opportunity to compete for his old centerfield job, which nobody had seized since he’d been away.

Herrera got off to a good start in camp, but ultimately cooled off. He went 12 for 52 (.231) with a double, four homers, a walk and 11 strikeouts. His on-base percentage was just .245.

In the end, that performance was probably not enough to convince team officials he was worth the public relations headache — at least for now. Girardi has said many times that making the opening day roster does not guarantee a player’s spot long term. The Phillies are looking for defense and offensive production in center field and Herrera could still play himself to Philadelphia, away from the glare of opening day, if no one locks down the job. By the same token, Scott Kingery, who will also open the season at the alternate site, could earn his way back to Philadelphia and get a shot at the center field job.

But, for now, Quinn and Haseley get first cracks at it.

Quinn surged toward the end of camp, hit .270 (10 for 37) with a .341 on-base percentage and made the roster. It helped that he’s a switch-hitter.

Haseley’s emergence late in camp gave the team’s brass another option besides Herrera for the final roster spot. He had missed 16 games in the middle of camp because of a groin injury. In fact, at the time of the injury, he was essentially ruled out for opening day. But Haseley made a quick recovery, got back for the final days of camp and had a pair of hits Monday to win the final spot. 

The question remains: Is Haseley really ready to go after just 19 at-bats (he had a double, a homer and five RBIs) in the Grapefruit League?

Time will tell.

It is not clear what role ownership played in the decision to keep Haseley over Herrera. Certainly, there’s enough justifiable baseball reason for the decision. But owners of sports teams are business people who tend to be keenly aware of public relations. Owners always have veto power. It’s not clear if Phillies ownership, led by John Middleton, vetoed having Herrera on the roster or simply left it up to the baseball staff.

Prior to the roster announcement, Girardi was asked if ownership would approve keeping Herrera.

“That’s not a question for me to answer,” he said. “That’s a question above my level.”

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