Phillies Leave Zero Question on Who Their Center Fielder of the Future Is

The Phillies could sell high on Odubel Herrera. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Phillies could sell high on Odubel Herrera. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Phillies erased any doubt about who will be the team’s center fielder for the future when they extended Odubel Herrera Thursday.

When the Phillies first converted Odubel Herrera from a second baseman to a center fielder during spring training in 2015, it seemed to be a short-term fill. Herrera was a better option than the limp-armed Ben Revere as a center fielder, so the Rule 5 pick stayed there and started 136 games there in 2015.

Even though Herrera led the team in wins above replacement in 2015, it was still up in the air where his long-term position was. The Phillies acquired top outfield prospect Nick Williams in the Cole Hamels trade, and Roman Quinn looked more and more like a top-tier center fielder when he wasn’t injured. Considering the presence of these two in the minors along with two other defensively talented outfielders in Peter Bourjos and Aaron Altherr, manager Pete Mackanin told Meghan Montemurro of the News Journal he would consider slotting Herrera into the lineup at second base need be.

2016 turned the table on the center field discussion as Herrera once again led the team in Baseball Reference’s WAR. Along with that, Herrera earned a trip to the All-Star Game and was a finalist for the Gold Glove award. For his efforts, I labeled him the team’s most valuable player in 2016.

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The announcement that the Phillies extended Herrera came as somewhat of a surprise. He was still under team control through the 2020 season. However, the deal is still incredibly team-friendly, like most other pre-arbitration extensions. Todd Zolecki of reported Herrera’s five-year contract is worth $30.5 million with two club options for 2022 and 2023, being worth $11.5 and $12.5 million, respectively.

Considering that Herrera was worth more than $30 million this season according to Fangraphs, his deal looks even more appealing.

This five-year deal now pencils Herrera in as the starting center fielder for the rest of the decade and then some. For the other outfielders in the system, this leaves the corner positions as their best chance to break into the majors. This won’t affect players like Williams, Dylan Cozens, and Cornelius Randolph who have no shot at playing center field.

However, there are still multiple players who this deal does hamper. The most obvious one would be Quinn, who rose through the minors as a center fielder. However, he did spend time last year playing both right and left field, so he should be just fine moving over. It wouldn’t surprise me if Quinn’s injury history was one of the factors that led to Herrera’s extension.

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Carlos Tocci already looked like the odd one out after he was left off the 40-man roster this winter. Even though no one selected Tocci in the Rule 5 draft, his hitting is still suspect despite his above-average defense. With this extension, Tocci’s future looks even dimmer.

Even 2016 No. 1 pick Mickey Moniak is affected by this contract. Including the option years, Herrera could be with the Phillies through the 2023 season. This extends well beyond Moniak’s 2020 ETA to the majors according to Moniak could spend multiple seasons stuck in Triple-A or in one of the major-league corner spots as Herrera continues to be the starting center fielder.

Next: Phillies Sign Odubel Herrera to Long-Term Contract

With Herrera’s new five-year contract extension, he is the no-doubt starting center fielder for the Phillies. Considering the length of the contract, it will affect players at the position at every level of the minor-leagues, from Quinn to Moniak.