On Day 1 of spring training, Phillies deal with the Odubel question


The question could be moot by the time spring training ends and the Phillies have to select their 26-man roster.

Because if Odubel Herrera is the player he was when he last stepped on a major-league field, he will not make the team's opening day roster. 

From June 25, 2018 through May 26, 2019, Herrera played in 114 games for the Phillies and hit .207 with a .268 on-base percentage and a .332 slugging percentage.

In other words, he was dreadful.

But if Herrera makes good on the first leg of what will be a long journey to rebuild his career and plays well enough to earn a spot on the Phillies' opening day roster more than a year after serving an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's policy against domestic violence, team management will have to consider more than what the 29-year-old outfielder's role on the club will be.

It will have to consider how Herrera will fit in and how he will be accepted in a clubhouse of 25 other players, some of whom, when polled last spring, privately expressed concerns about bringing him back, while some others privately said they'd have no problems with it as long as Herrera was contrite and committed to being a good man after serving his punishment.

Herrera has been out of sight, out of mind for close to a year now, but with spring training opening in Clearwater and the team saying it will give him a look in camp, questions first asked a year ago have become relevant again.

"It will be a topic of conversation," manager Joe Girardi said in a videoconference on the first day of workouts Wednesday. "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 someone doesn't like him."

Girardi explained what has been covered extensively for months. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association prohibits a team from releasing a player or voiding his contract for violating the joint policy against domestic violence. Herrera is signed through 2021 and owed $13 million, guaranteed. If the team wants to release him, it has to be for baseball reasons.

Maybe Herrera's work this spring affords the Phillies those baseball reasons.

Maybe his work this spring unveils a productive player who can help a team that just so happens to have an opening in center field, the position that Herrera played well enough to make the National League All-Star team in 2016.

"There are no guarantees," Girardi said. "The CBA allows for redemption. He's trying to earn a spot back."

A year after he made a public apology for his actions, Herrera is technically in the Phillies' mini-camp with other minor-leaguers. He dresses at the minor-league complex, not in the big-league clubhouse, and works out with other players in the mini-camp. But each and every one of those players is eligible to play on the big-league side, and in Grapefruit League games, at any time. If Herrera tears it up in mini-camp, he could push for a look in Grapefruit League action — and possibly more.

Girardi said he has spoken to some team leaders about Herrera's second chance and their willingness to accept him back if he makes the club. He indicated that not every player feels the same and that he could have some work to do in the clubhouse if Herrera does indeed make the team.

"He's afforded a chance to prove to his teammates, to the fans of Philadelphia, the organization, that he is a changed person," Girardi said. "I think everyone's going to have a different opinion on this. And I'm OK with that.

"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.

"There may be guys that never have open arms, but I would ask that everyone gives him a chance to prove himself, that's all. I mean, 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 — I get that — in the eyes of the beholder. But none of us are perfect."

With camp not yet open to reporters, the Phillies made veteran pitcher Aaron Nola available in a videoconference after Wednesday's workout. He's been in Clearwater for more than a week and spent some time with Herrera, another early arriver.

Nola supports giving his former and possibly future teammate a shot at redemption and would welcome him back if he made the team.

"I would," Nola said. "I believe in second chances."

Nola was asked if he believed his teammates would be as accepting.

"Yeah, I believe," he said. "I mean, everybody's (entitled) to their own opinion. But I believe so."

Again, it's an issue that Phillies players won't have to deal with unless Herrera plays well enough to earn his way back on the roster.

"He looks good, looks really good, looks in shape, for sure," Nola said. "He looks like Odubel. 

"We all know what he's capable of on the field. A lot of us have been with him for a little while now. He's a good player. I mean, we know he can help us win ballgames and that's what we're focused on. But I know he's learned from his decisions and he's had to do what he's had to do. I think he's in a good place right now for himself. I think, baseball-wise, he can definitely help us win."

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