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.”

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Even though he's been gone for 18 months and now wears a Boston Red Sox uniform, Ruben Amaro Jr. still has skin in the Phillies' rebuild.

Amaro was the Phillies' general manager in July 2015 when the team sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers for a package that included five prospects, some who have already contributed in the major leagues and others that are knocking on the door.

And though his professional concern these days is coaching first base for Red Sox, Amaro still sneaks an occasional peek at how those prospects are progressing.

"Absolutely," he said before the Phillies and Red Sox played Saturday afternoon (see story). "It's human nature.

"It seems like they're doing OK. I think eventually they will all be contributors in the big leagues. If you get five of those guys to contribute in the big leagues, I think that's a pretty good trade."

The Phillies got three right-handed pitchers, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson, in that deal, as well as catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams.

Thompson, Alfaro and Williams will be part of a prospect-studded Triple A Lehigh Valley team this season, and all three could be regulars in the majors in a year. Asher is still a candidate to make this year's big-league club in the bullpen.

Eickhoff, of course, is already a stalwart on the club. The 26-year-old right-hander led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) last season. His mark of 1.92 walks per nine innings was fourth-best among National League starting pitchers last season.

Earlier this week, manager Pete Mackanin named Jeremy Hellickson his opening day starter. Hellickson called it "a great honor," then admitted that he thought Eickhoff deserved it more.

Eickhoff has been called a throw-in in the Hamels trade.

In fact, the pitcher himself used that phrase recently.

Amaro set the record straight.

"He wasn't a throw-in," the former GM said.

In terms of upside, Eickhoff might have ranked fourth in the deal behind Alfaro, Williams and Thompson, but he was a guy the Phillies invested many scouting hours in, a guy they wanted.

"He was an important part of it because he was one of the closest to getting to the big leagues as a starter and we needed guys from the upper levels because we didn't have a lot of them in starting pitching," Amaro said.

Amaro and Rangers GM Jon Daniels worked on the Hamels deal for months before pulling the trigger at July 2015 trade deadline.

Eickhoff had popped on the Phillies' radar when scout Charley Kerfeld watched him throw on a back field at the Rangers' minor-league complex. Scouts Dewey Colbert and Bart Braun also saw him.

"All of our guys saw him," Amaro said. "Charley saw him a lot. Dewey and Bart saw him. We had multiple looks on him and everybody else in that deal. We had quality recommendations.

"He wasn't one of (Texas') top 10 guys. But that's what good scouting is all about.

"After we made the trade, I talked to Jon Daniels about it and he said Eickhoff was the guy he was most pissed off about moving because he loved his character and the way he went about his business. He told me, 'I wish you would have substituted somebody else for Eickhoff.'"

Eickhoff actually came to the majors when Amaro was still the Phillies' GM. Amaro was let go between the time Eickhoff made his fourth and fifth starts.

Amaro peeked at the box scores after Eickhoff's starts last season.

Was he surprised by Eickhoff's performance?

"With the amount of innings he had, absolutely," he said. "But that's a great credit to him.

"Eickhoff has something that's different from other guys. He's got that thing that you need as a major league pitcher to be successful. He's got that internal drive and he's got (guts). That's big. You can't measure that with a protractor.

"Other things can be measured with a protractor. That one can't.

"From my brief time with him and from talking to other people, I know he wants to be good. You can tell he's got something in there."

With all of this going for him, why was Eickhoff rated fourth in the deal?

"Ceiling," Amaro said. "When you talk about ceiling, overall stuff, Thompson was one of those guys who had a higher ceiling. But ceilings, obviously, can change when a guy gets to the big leagues.

"We had a lot of internal debates about how guys lined up in this trade."

In the months leading up to the deal, the Phillies sought Alfaro and power-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara, who hit 20 homers as a 21-year-old rookie for the Rangers last season.

"Mazara was about as untouchable as you can get," Amaro said. "Real high-ceiling guy who we liked the most probably along with Alfaro.

"We talked for a long time. It got to the point where we would not do the deal without Alfaro. We had to get 'a guy' and everyday catcher is such a crucial position. As far as the position guys, he was the most crucial."

The Phillies wanted an outfield bat in the deal, as well. With Mazara not in play, they focused on Williams and Lewis Brinson, a prospect who the Rangers sent to Milwaukee in last summer's deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

"There was a lot of discussion about Williams and Brinson," Amaro said. "We liked them both. We thought that Williams was closer at the time and we really wanted guys that were close and we liked the way (Williams) swung the bat."

The final verdict on Amaro's watershed trade with the Rangers is still years away. Hamels has helped Texas get to the postseason the last two seasons and helps fuel that club's big dreams this season.

The Phillies' haul in the deal is still percolating and the team hopes it one day comes together as a fine brew.

And if it does, Ruben Amaro Jr. can feel some satisfaction. He's no longer a Phillie, but he has some skin in the team's rebuild.

Phillies 3, Red Sox 3: Bullpen auditions continue with personnel meeting looming

Phillies 3, Red Sox 3: Bullpen auditions continue with personnel meeting looming

BOX SCORE

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phillies officials have a big personnel powwow on Sunday and one of the matters that will be discussed is who gets the final two bullpen jobs.

With evaluation time dwindling, the Phils used Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox as an opportunity to look at Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez, all candidates to win a job in the bullpen.

"They all got a lot of work," manager Pete Mackanin said after the Phillies played to a 3-3 tie with the Red Sox.

The right-hander Asher worked three innings and gave up three hits and two runs.

The lefty Morgan worked three innings and allowed a solo homer.

The lefty Rodriguez worked two innings, gave up a hit and struck out three.

"To hold the Red Sox to three runs is pretty nice, especially in this ballpark," Mackanin said. "They had their guys in there and we held them down."

Morgan has allowed just one run over six innings his last two outings.

"He has changed speeds well last two times out," Mackanin said. "That's how he needs to pitch."

The Phillies have five spots set in their bullpen with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos. They are all right-handers. The final two spots will likely come down to Morgan, Asher, Rodriguez and Luis Garcia, who are all on the 40-man roster. That is an important consideration because the Phils would like to keep their 40-man roster subtractions to a minimum. There is an outside chance they could go with an eight-man bullpen, though that might be tough in the National League, where a full bench comes in handy. That will be discussed Sunday.

The makeup of the bench will also be discussed Sunday. Andrew Knapp's place on the 40-man roster will help his chance of being the backup catcher. Veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday both can opt of their contracts in the next few days if they are not going to make the club. Utility man Chris Coghlan also has an opt-out coming. Daniel Nava and Brock Stassi are also candidates for what looks like two remaining spots on the bench. Nava does not have an opt-out until June. Stassi is under control and would have to accept an assignment to the minors if he does not make the club.

Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp. He is on the 40-man roster. The question is whether the team wants to carry the 22-year-old as an extra man or get him regular reps at second base in Triple A. Valentin is 11 for 31 (.355) this spring. He hit his fifth double on Saturday.

"He swings the bat really well from the right side," Mackanin said. "He's got some work to do from the left side. He's got good actions and instincts. In a short period of time, he's made a good impression on me and I think he can be a major-league player."

The game
The Phillies had 12 hits but scored just three runs. They have scored just 10 runs over the last four games.

"We just can't accumulate a lot of runs," Mackanin said.

The Phils were last in the majors with 610 runs last season.

The Phillies tied the game in the top of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Coghlan.

Mackanin tried to suicide-squeeze home the go-ahead run, but Roman Quinn popped up the bunt.

Colton Murray preserved the tie with a clean bottom of the ninth.

Former Phillie Kyle Kendrick pitched six innings of two-run ball for Boston. He walked none and struck out six. Kendrick projects to open the season at Triple A, but is No. 6 on the Red Sox's starting pitching depth chart and is likely to see big-league at some point this season.

Up next
The Phillies host the Pirates on Sunday. Clay Buchholz will make the start against right-hander Josh Lindblom, who spent time with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade in 2012.