Odubel Herrera's new 5-year deal looks like great value for Phillies

Odubel Herrera's new 5-year deal looks like great value for Phillies

The Phillies on Thursday rewarded Odubel Herrera with a five-year contract, one that could also prove to be team-friendly.

Herrera, who was set to become a free agent after 2020, instead gets a five-year deal with two club options that could keep him with the Phils through 2023. 

The contract is worth a guaranteed $30.5 million, a major league source tells CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury. The club options are in 2022 and 2023 at $11.5 million and $12.5 million. There is no no-trade clause.

The Phillies clearly see their 24-year-old centerfielder as a building block.

Herrera, who hit .297 as a rookie in 2015, took a step forward in his sophomore season, controlling the strike zone better and developing some power.

He made the NL All-Star team in 2016, hitting .313 with a .462 on-base percentage in April and walking 34 times in the season's first two months. 

Overall, .286/.361/.420 in 656 plate appearances, with seven more homers (15) and nine more stolen bases (25) than he had in 2015. He walked 35 more times and cut his strikeout rate by nearly four percent.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin spoke often about Herrera's paradoxical approach — he's not this eagle-eyed, disciplined hitter and he'll sometimes swing himself out of an at-bat, but his ability to foul off pitches and diagnose a pitcher's plan of attack (or what he has going on that night) allows him to draw walks.

Herrera hit a bit of a lull as the All-Star break approached, and the walk rate dropped significantly as the season progressed. He walked 29 times in 108 games from May 1-on.

But he rebounded late in the second half, hitting .371 with eight extra-base hits in his last 18 games.

That last little hot streak might have been important for the Phillies to see. In two seasons, Herrera has had a terrific half each year and a slow half each year.

In 2015, he hit .335 with a .391 OBP in his last 80 games.

In 2016, he hit .306 with a .396 OBP in his first 80 games.

Can you fluke that two years in a row? Herrera hasn't looked like a player about to experience a stiff drop-off in production. He's a left-handed hitter with bat speed (crushed a few balls out to right field), but also the ability to poke one over the shortstop's head. In two years, he has nine bunt hits and 48 infield singles.

There's a lot to like.

As for the contract, it might actually make Herrera more tradable as he's now cost-controlled for the next seven seasons at a manageable price. The final three years of Herrera's deal take the place of what would have been his first three free-agent years. And they'll cost the Phillies about $30 million.

That's great value if Herrera keeps it up. Dexter Fowler just got five years, $82.5 million from the Cardinals. Herrera and Fowler are equals right now, and Herrera's 5½ years younger. Plus, inflation.

This new contract puts guaranteed money in Herrera's pockets but also allows the Phillies to save some on the back end, when they will likely be more competitive and need their payroll space more than they do now.

Herrera does has some flaws. When he's gone cold, his bat has been wild and he's chased a lot of bad pitches. He had more gaffes in center field last year than he did as a rookie. The advanced defensive metrics say he was about the same; the eye test said he took a small step back.

But Herrera is here to stay, in a Phillies outfield picture that is more crowded than it was a few years ago. Howie Kendrick is pencilled in as the LF for 2017. Beyond that, Nick Williams has yet to fulfill offensive expectations, Roman Quinn has been oft-injured, and Aaron Altherr lost some important development time in 2016 after breaking his wrist in spring training. The Phillies have high hopes for Dylan Cozens coming off a 40-HR season at Double A but he'll need to trim his strikeout rate and improve against lefties before factoring into their top-level plans. Mickey Moniak, the high school outfielder taken first overall in the 2015 draft, will be at Single A this season. His approximate ETA to Citizens Bank Park is 2019 or 2020.

Herrera's turning out to be one of the better Rule 5 picks in recent memory. The Phillies took him eighth overall in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, 10 years after uncovering a gem in Shane Victorino the same way.

Herrera, then a second baseman in the Texas Rangers' farm system, was coming off a season in which he hit .321 at Double A and then .372 in the Venezuelan Winter League. Thinking he possessed the ability to play the outfield, Phillies director of professional scouting Mike Ondo and his staff targeted Herrera and landed him. Seven teams have kicked themselves at some point.

The main reason Herrera was even available to the Phillies then was the strength of Texas' farm system, particulary in the middle infield. A team can protect only so many players and Herrera didn't make the cut.

Seven months after acquiring Herrera, the Phillies added five more prospects from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade. So far, Herrera has outperformed all of them.

On Thursday, he was rewarded for it.

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

LOS ANGELES — What Zach Eflin remembers most about his last start at Dodger Stadium isn't so much the result, it's the long walk he took up the corridor behind the dugout to the visiting clubhouse.
 
It hurt.
 
Physically.
 
Eflin lasted only three innings in that game on Aug. 8 of last season. He gave up seven hits, three of which were home runs, and seven runs before walking gingerly to the clubhouse, his night and his season over.
 
"I remember feeling pain as I walked to the trainer's room," he said Friday.
 
Eflin will be feeling no pain when he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He had dealt with chronic tendinitis in his knees for years. The flare-up that affected his performance and forced him to leave the game the last time he pitched in Dodger Stadium hastened his decision to have offseason surgery — on both knees — to fix the problem.
 
"Surgery was always something off in the distance," the 23-year-old pitcher said. "But after that night, we sat down and talked about it. It was absolutely a good thing that we took care of it at that point, do it while I'm young, make sure it's a 2016 injury and not a career injury."
 
Team physician Steven Cohen performed the surgeries six weeks apart in August and September and Eflin says, "I feel completely rejuvenated. It's like night and day."
 
The surgical procedures, Eflin said, involved Cohen cutting a two-inch vertical incision over the middle of the kneecap.
 
"He cleaned out some dead tissue and little tears," Eflin said. "He drilled some holes in the kneecap, moved some stuff around and glued it all down."
 
Obviously, that's not a scientific description of the surgeries, but all that matters to Eflin is, "I feel great now."
 
Eflin got in on the ground floor of the Phillies' rebuild. He came to the Phils in the first trade that the team made after embarking on its rebuild after the 2014 season, the one that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. Eflin was actually a San Diego Padres prospect as the trade was going down. The Phillies targeted him and got him in what was ostensibly a three-team deal. Eflin was a Dodger for about 20 minutes before joining the Phillies' organization.
 
The Phillies took it easy with Eflin out of the gate this season, giving him a little extra time to get used to his new knees. He has made two starts with the big club and given up just three runs in 12 innings. His last start was excellent — seven innings of three-hit, one-run, no-walk, three-strikeout ball in a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
 
Eflin would like to duplicate that effort as he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He will be opposed by right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
 
"I'm ready to go and take care of business," he said. "I'm excited to take the mound healthy."