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.”

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

With Mark Leiter, Jr. going for his second straight win as a starter (see today's game notes), Pete Mackanin has kept his batting order pretty much the same from Tuesday's night's win.

But there is one change that will stand out. Odubel Herrera will return to the lineup today for the Phils after getting a breather last night. Prior to the game, Herrera talked about how he needs to play a smarter brand of baseball. But he'll get back in today against Seattle star Felix Hernandez.

Daniel Nava will lead off again and play left field with Freddy Galvis right behind him. The Phils' shortstop went 3 for 5 last night and is hitting over .300 for the month of June.

Howie Kendrick sits this afternoon for the Phillies as Tommy Joseph gets the start as designated hitter. That means that Brock Stassi will play first base instead.

Perhaps Maikel Franco can continue to stay hot from the sixth spot. He's hitting .303 as the team's No. 6 batter and will be there again Wednesday.

Here are both teams' full lineups for today's matinee in the Pacific Northwest:

1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, DH
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Ty Kelly, 2B

1. Jean Segura SS
2. Ben Gamel, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Mitch Haniger, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 1B
8. Jarrod Dyson, CF
9. Mike Zunino, C

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies (25-51) at Mariners (39-40)
3:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App. Pregame Live begins at 3 p.m.

After a brutal weekend in Arizona, Tuesday night's late rally was something for Phillies fans to smile about — even if it all happened past midnight Eastern time. It was a second straight strong start for Aaron Nola and his third in the month of June, plus the Phils' bats doubled their entire output from the final games against the D-backs.

Now, the question is: can the Phillies win their first interleague series of the season and their first series overall since the first weekend of June?

1. Fool me once...
Through 12 appearances and 19.0 innings of relief work, Mark Leiter, Jr. showed very little. The 2013 22nd-round pick had tallied just a 4.74 ERA, with 14 walks versus only 12 strikeouts.

So last Friday's starting debut in Phoenix came as somewhat of a surprise — Leiter earned a quality start, tossing six shutout innings of three-hit ball with 5 Ks and only one walk against one of the best teams in all of baseball.

Wednesday afternoon, the nephew of two-time All-Star Al Leiter will have a chance to follow up on that performance against another top-10 offense. When Leiter faced Seattle last month in relief duty in Philadelphia, he went 1.1 innings and surrendered just one hit but put a pair of runners on base that eventually came around to score.

Although Leiter's fastball has sat around only about 91mph this season, he's got a pretty decent repertoire of pitches including a plus curveball — a similar style to Nola, who gave the Mariners trouble last night. If Leiter can have another good outing, he might be able to hang around in the rotation longer than initially expected.

2. Bowing down — or not
Félix Hernández has been one of baseball's better hurlers in the last few seasons. He's racked up double-digit wins every season since 2009, had a career-best 2.14 ERA in 2014 en route to Cy Young honors and is still probably Seattle's best starter stuff-wise.

But this season, King Felix has not entirely been himself, going to the DL in late April before returning just last week. And after a sluggish start to the year, he bounced back with one of his better outings — the Astros mustered only three runs on eight hits against Hernández in six innings of work.

What can we expect against the Phils? Well, the only other time he's faced the Phillies was in 2011, when he also gave up three runs in seven frames. 

But want to guess how many players in that lineup are on this team? Right, exactly zero.

3. Franco's big night
Tuesday was only the second time in his last 13 games that Maikel Franco chipped in a multi-hit performance. His .242 batting average this month is well above those of April and May, but obviously it's nowhere near where the Phillies probably hoped he'd be at this point in the season. Last year at this juncture, he was still only hitting .246.

Still, his HR and RBI numbers aren't that far off, and his solo shot sparked the Phils' crucial surge. He's also cutting down on his strikeouts — although he did last night, it was his first since June 17 and only his 12th this month.

Franco has had better success at the plate since moving down in the lineup. Pete Mackanin had the third baseman hitting sixth last night, where he's gone 20 for 66 with a .303 batting average and .803 OPS.

4. Multi-hit madman
You want to know who is the hottest hitter in the Phillies lineup? Yep, it's Freddy Galvis.

He has 15 hits in his last 40 at-bats and is currently batting .301 for the month. This comes after a month of May when the shortstop hit .188 with 17 strikeouts in 96 at-bats.

Tuesday night, Galvis went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and a run out of the two-hole, and there's no reason to think he's coming down in the order anytime soon.

5. This and that
• Other than Jean Segura's two-run bomb in the third inning, it was an extremely quiet offensive night Tuesday for a Seattle lineup that brings a ton of pop in the heart of its order. The Mariners' top six batters went a combined 2 for 22 with nine strikeouts against Nola, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris.

• Speaking of Neris, last night's perfect ninth inning was part of what's actually been a pretty solid six-week stretch. Sure, he hasn't been lights out but since May 14, Neris has only given up five earned runs on 13 hits in a total of 15.2 innings of work.

• If you're looking for a glimmer of hope, look no further than Allentown. Scott Kingery's second game with IronPigs might've been better than his first as the second base prospect slugged two home runs for the Triple A club.