SAN DIEGO – Phillies general manager Matt Klentak all but anointed Adam Haseley as the team's starting centerfielder for the 2020 season on Wednesday and in doing so offered his strongest indication yet that Odubel Herrera will not be part of the club.
"I expect that Adam Haseley's going to be our regular center fielder," Klentak said on Day 3 of baseball's winter meetings. "But having said that, I recognize that when Roman Quinn is healthy and playing to his potential, it's hard to take him out of the lineup. I think that combination of players likely takes down the majority of our center field reps this year."
Klentak went on to say he expected Jay Bruce to be part of the club and "cover us on the corners," as a backup to Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper as well as a bat off the bench.
That's five outfielders and no Herrera.
By now you know the story. Herrera was suspended for violating Major League Baseball's policy against domestic violence last May. As a matter of procedure, he has been reinstated to the 40-man roster, but there is no guarantee he will part of the team in 2020. In fact, it seems quite doubtful based on how team officials have glossed over him – he's basically a forgotten man – whenever talking about plans for the coming season. Klentak's strong backing of a Haseley-Quinn tandem in center field next season was the latest example.
Herrera, who turns 28 this month, was the Phillies' starting center fielder for four-plus seasons before his suspension, and he has two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract. When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not have his contract voided. To move on from Herrera, the Phillies would have to eat the remainder of his salary and prove that they were releasing him for purely baseball reasons. The emergence of Haseley, who came up in June last season, and the desire to see more of him in 2020 sure sounds like a baseball reason.
"He has a guaranteed contract for this year and next," Klentak said of Herrera. "He's getting paid. When he left the team in the spring, he was the everyday center fielder and what he's coming back to now is a much different situation.
"It's just a different landscape than before Odubel was suspended. That's the crux of the issue here."
The Phillies probably won't feel any pressure to make a call on Herrera's future until spring training draws near. If he comes to camp, he will have to earn his way onto the active roster.
"Anything that happens from here on out is going to be performance driven and he has to earn whatever he's going to get. His standing on our club is impacted by both how he performs, but also what happens around him. Some of this is within his control and some it is not. He's in Miami, he's working out and he's getting himself in good shape. He understands that he's going to have to earn whatever he gets in his career and he's taking that seriously."
Haseley, who will play at age 24 next season, was the Phillies' first-round draft pick in 2017. He was a big favorite of Klentak for his ability to control the strike zone (i.e., work counts, limit strike outs, get on base) at the University of Virginia. He was called up from the minors when McCutchen blew out his ACL in June and hit .266 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .720 OPS in 222 at-bats. He walked just 14 times and struck out 60.
"In a perfect world, he would have spent more time in the minor leagues," Klentak said. "But with McCutchen getting hurt, we felt it was the right time to be a little more aggressive. He had some ups and downs. It wasn't a perfect rookie season. But I think he gives a real good at-bat. He's got a very good idea of the strike zone – he had that as an amateur and he started to show it at the big-league level. I know his walk-to-strikeout totals weren't great but I think if you watch his at-bats, I think you can see he has that skill and as he starts to become more comfortable at this level we'll start to see that more and more.
"I was also impressed with his defense so I think when you look at the body of work over three months that he was in the big leagues that's a pretty impressive rookie season and I think there's reason for optimism that he'll be better than that (in 2020)."
From Jake Arrieta to Zack Wheeler to McCutchen and Harper, the Phillies have spent big on free agents over the last couple of years, and they still want to extend J.T. Realmuto's contract later this winter. Most teams cannot survive by signing high-priced talents all over the diamond. For sustainability reasons, some of that talent has to be young, homegrown, and by extension, inexpensive.
So say hello to Adam Haseley in 2020.
"I think he's going to be a really good player," Klentak said. "And as important as anything, our team needs to make sure that we are giving opportunities to young players when the time is right and when those players deserve it. With the way that our roster is unfolding -- we have the center field spot (open) and a good young player who we really like who showed well for himself in his rookie year -- it makes sense for us to let him get the reps out there."