Odubel Herrera promises to make Phillies’ investment in him look good

Odubel Herrera promises to make Phillies’ investment in him look good

Twenty-five months after the Texas Rangers left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, Odubel Herrera had a simple message for the team that signed him as a teenage baseball hopeful in Venezuela.

Thank you.

Herrera was all smiles as his five-year, $30.5 million contract extension with the Phillies was officially announced during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.

He thanked his parents, his representatives and the Phillies for what he called a dream come true.

And he thanked the Rangers, whose decision to expose him to the Rule 5 draft in December 2014 led to his life-changing opportunity in Philadelphia.

“I trust my ability 100 percent,” Herrera said in Spanish. “I knew that the minute they didn’t put me on the roster, some other team would try to get me.

“And I thank the Rangers for helping me get that opportunity.”

Herrera’s story has been well-documented. He was a below-average defensive second baseman in the Texas system. The Rangers began using him in the outfield occasionally in the minors in 2014 and he made the switch to center field full-time that same year during the Venezuelan winter ball season. While playing for the La Guaira ball club, Herrera caught the eye of Jorge Velandia, that team’s general manager. Velandia is also a member of the Phillies' front office. He gave the Phillies a heads up on Herrera. Pro scouting director Mike Ondo and his staff beared down on Herrera and ultimately the Phillies selected him with the eighth pick in the Rule 5 draft two years ago.

Coming off a 2014 winter season where he was the Venezuelan league batting champion (.372), Herrera came to camp with the Phillies simply trying to stick with the club. He did more than that. He became the team’s opening day centerfielder and over two seasons has led the team in batting average (.291), OPS (.773), hits (314), runs (151), stolen bases (41) and total bases (452). He was the Phillies’ lone representative in the All-Star Game last July.

General manager Matt Klentak said he began thinking about signing Herrera to a long-term deal in the summer and began working on it with Herrera’s agents shortly before Thanksgiving. The Phillies were under no urgency to lock up Herrera as he would not have been eligible for salary arbitration until after next season and free agency until after the 2020 season. But Klentak saw an opportunity to gain cost certainty with an improving player that he wanted to build around. He used the word “investment” in talking about the decision to sign Herrera, who turns 25 on Dec. 29.

“Any time an organization signs a player to a five-year extension, there are a lot of contributing factors,” Klentak said. “In its simplest form, this boiled down to two things: What type of player Odubel is and what type of person Odubel is. 

“On the field, this guy can do just about everything. He can hit, he can run, he can play defense and he’s growing into some power. And as important as all these factors is he plays with energy. And for a young team like ours, with the culture we’re trying to build, that style of play that this young man produces on the field is something that’s very important to this franchise.

“We’ve gotten to know Odubel and his family over the last two years. He’s a hard worker and a good family man. He’s a great teammate. When we make this type of an investment, we want to make sure we invest in people like Odubel Herrera.”

Herrera’s contract breaks down this way:

There is a $1.75 million signing bonus and salaries of $1.25 million in 2017, $3 million in 2018, $5 million in 2019, $7 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021. The team holds a pair of options at $11.5 million and $12.5 million for 2022 and 2023. The option can be bought out for $2.5 million after 2021. So the total value of the deal could be worth $52 million over seven years and in this baseball economy that could be a bargain if Herrera continues on his current track.

The Phils do take a risk that Herrera could level off as a player or become complacent. Klentak does not believe complacency will be a factor.

“We believe that what Odubel has demonstrated to us over the last couple of years with his work ethic and on-field abilities and energy level, this is a player that should not be affected by a contract like this,” Klentak said. “We strongly believe that. If we did not believe that, we would not have done this.”

Herrera promised to stay hungry.

“I am going to continue to play hard and do the things that could end up getting me another big contract in the future,” he said. "I am going to play hard, work hard and try to win."

Herrera will average $6.1 million over the next five seasons. He could have gambled on himself, put up some big numbers and made more than that had he said no to the Phillies’ offer.

But the son of a farmer from Venezuela opted for security.

“You never know when this opportunity is going to come again,” Herrera said. “It was a good chance to sign a deal and this opportunity only comes once. We decided to make the decision and sign the contract.”

Herrera slumped after making the All-Star team in 2016. He turned it on down the stretch, about the time center field prospect Roman Quinn arrived from the minors. At the time, there was speculation that the Phillies could entertain trade offers (at a high price) for Herrera this winter. 

“We have no intention today of trading Odubel Herrera,” Klentak said. “Candidly, we didn’t before this contract, either.”

It is worth noting, however, that Herrera’s new contract does not contain a no-trade clause and that could someday be valuable because the Phillies have a host of young outfield prospects, starting with Quinn, who could begin arriving in the majors as soon as 2017. Herrera has the flexibility to play all three outfield spots, but Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin, citing positive advanced metrics on Herrera’s work in center field, said he would stay at the position for the foreseeable future.

“If sometime down the road we have too many good centerfielders, that’s a good problem to have,” Klentak said.

Mackanin added, “The only problem I have with Odubel is whether to hit him first, second or third in the lineup.”

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

usa-aaron-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning their season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeout Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year (see story)”. 

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five (reliable) guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”