According to multiple reporters covering Major League Baseball’s winter meetings, the Phillies have been actively shopping Center Fielder Odubel “El Torito” Herrera to multiple teams. Herrera, the team’s lone 2016 all star, had a terrific first half of the season before seemingly falling off a cliff after his selection to the National League’s Mid-Summer Classic roster. Herrera batted .286 throughout the entire 2016 season, with a .361 and 25 stolen bases. He was also (maybe undeservedly) a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field.
The pro-Herrera Phillies fans have a strong argument as to why he should be in the team’s plans for the future of the outfield. When he was playing at his best, Odubel provided a spark to the lineup that was invaluable to the almost unpredictable 24-17 start to the season by the Phillies. Having a leadoff man who provides power and consistency at the plate and wreaks havoc on the base paths is just about all that a manager could ask for. And when said player is only 24 years old, and has played only two big league seasons, then the manager feels really luck.
The defense was a little shaky even before Herrera’s slump, but a move to right field would not be a huge adjustment. In only 129 more plate appearances than he had in 2015, he walked 35 (!) more times, good for double his previous total and then some. Sure, his strikeouts are still an issue, but, again, the man is only 24 years old, so it is a safe bet than the improved patience will translate into a more favorable strikeout rate. Additionally, Herrera was the team’s best player pre-all star break last season, and a case could be made that he was ahead of the pack for the entirety of the year. The fact that every MLB team must have at least one all-star definitely decreases the value of Herrera’s selection, but he was still an all-star, and to be chosen as the best player on your team at such a young age, and as such an inexperienced player, is impressive regardless of the circumstances.
However, as convenient as it would be to be able to focus only on the first half of a season, and remember only the exciting and sometimes even dominant parts of Herrera’s 2016 campaign, we can’t overlook the horrendous slump that he went through almost immediately after the all-star game selection show. In the latter half of the past season, Odubel’s batting average was 17 points lower than his .294 first-half total, and his on-base percentage was 41 points lower than his .378 first half number. In about 80 less at-bats, he hit half as many home runs, drove in half as many runs, and struck out 4 times fewer than he did pre-ASB. In 110 July at-bats he averaged .227 with a .274 on-base percentage. Improvements were made in August and September, but Herrera’s inconsistencies were enough to get him benched at times before the end of the year.
Offense was not the only issue for Torito. Among qualifying National League center fielders, Odubel finished last in fielding percentage and committed the most errors in the group. Many of his errors were made simply by not paying enough attention to the situation at hand, whether that be a messy exchange from glove to hand, a throw to the wrong base, or even letting a routine ground ball slide past him that easily should’ve been secured in his glove. The mental errors in the outfield were detrimental at many points throughout the season, and when (purposely used when instead of if, by the way) the Phillies become contenders, losing games by way of mental lapses will not be acceptable.
Although Odubel’s trade value is not as high as it may have been in early June, Matt Klentak may receive an offer that he deems unrejectable, as was the case when Ken Giles was shipped to Houston for a plethora of talent at the 2015 meetings. A haul of young talent in return for Herrera would most likely be the price for the services of the 24 year-old, but a club may be desperate for a utility man, under team control until 2020, who can just about do it all.
One team who may fall into that category is the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds, who have made it very clear that they are unwilling to deal superstar Joey Votto, have been rumored to be interested in Herrera and may offer 26 year-old Center Fiedler Billy Hamilton in return, assumedly amongst a prospect or two. Hamilton is known for his speed, solid defense, and little else. He stole 58 bases in 2016, but hit a modest .260 with only 3 home runs and 17 runs batted in.
Personally, I believe that the Phils should hold onto El Torito. If he can retrieve his confidence and patience at the plate that he flashed throughout the beginning of last season, he could be one of the stars of the next contending Phillies team. He excels in almost every part of the game, but inconsistency really knocked him off his game after he was named an all-star. If the coaches and his fellow teammates can help him settle down and play the way that he is certainly capable of doing, then declining all offers for him will be well worth it in the long run.
Photo by dbking (via Flickr)