For whom the Odubel tolls: Where do the Phillies go from here?

Things have gone from bad to worse for Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera in 2019—but the implications for his team and teammates are also far-reaching.

Last Monday, Herrera was arrested in Atlantic City, New Jersey on a simple assault charge following a domestic incident at the Golden Nugget Hotel. The 27-year-old was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball, and has been inactive since then while an investigation takes place.

When the news of this arrest broke, the Phillies released this statement:

The league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement states that MLB has seven days to investigate the claims against Herrera, and after that can ask for an extension or transfer the paid leave to a suspension without pay. on Monday, it was announced that the administrative leave period was extended another two weeks, ending on June 17.

With Herrera being the latest MLB player to violate the league’s domestic violence policy, the focus now shifts away from him and onto the Philadelphia front office as the all-important question of ‘now what?’ needs to be answered.

On the field, it’s been no secret that Herrera has struggled mightily this season, batting just .222 with 28 hits and an on-base percentage of .288. The left-handed batter has hovered around the sixth and seventh spot in manager Gabe Kapler‘s batting order and simply hasn’t gotten anything going at the plate, a seeming continuation of 2018’s mid-season harbinger that took his .300 average down to .255 by late September.

But even prior to Herrera’s arrest, Kapler was already attempting to remedy the lack of production in center field. Since the series finale versus the Colorado Rockies on May 19, super utility man Scott Kingery played center field nine times, the first time being his debut at the position. In 79 at-bats, Kingery is hitting .329 with an OBP of .369, numbers that aren’t likely to be sustainable over the long run but are certainly an immediate upgrade. He has yet to make an error in the outfield, showcasinging his versatility and skillset.

Even after Roman Quinn recovers from his Grade 2 groin strain and returns from the injured list, it seems wise for Kapler to stick with Kingery, especially since Quinn has said he is giving up switch hitting to bat exclusively right-handed. Instead of platooning Kingery and Quinn, the latter should be considered a vital bench piece, especially given his quickness on the base path. His speed will allow him to be a consistent pinch runner off the bench, as well as a replacement for Kingery when he needs a day off.

In what could be interpreted as the final nail in Herrera’s coffin, the Phillies acquired outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mariners on Sunday in exchange for Single-A infielder Jake Scheiner and cash considerations. As a left-handed power bat, Kapler has already come out and said Bruce will be utilized both off the bench and as a starter on days where they will facing right-handed pitchers.

The move, albeit unexpected, makes more sense when delving into the 32-year-old’s performance at Citizens Bank Park. As an opposing player, Bruce batted .294 in 158 plate appearances in Philadelphia, the second highest average he produced in away ballparks with at least 100 PA. This season, Bruce has seen most of his time in right field, leaving open the possibility of him switching over to left with Andrew McCutchen in center and Bryce Harper in right.

Of course, this all assumes the Phillies cut ties with Herrera once more details about the incident are released.

Taking into consideration the most recent domestic violence incidents in MLB, it appears Philadelphia can go three routes.

Option one is to trade him like the Toronto Blue Jays did when closer Roberto Osuna was handed a 75-game suspension last June for a policy violation—the Jays ended up with Ken Giles, Hector Perez and David Paulino, and the Astros ended up with a social pariah and an obvious and significant tarnish on their “zero-tolerance” policy.

Option two is to simply put their heads down and hope fans don’t pay much mind like the Chicago Cubs did with shortstop Addison Russell, who was placed on leave last September due to a domestic violence situation. After serving a 40-game suspension that spanned into the first 29 games of 2019, he was simply allowed to return to the clubhouse as a starter and publicly run his mouth about how “true” fans should treat him.

With Herrera owed $17 million over the next two years and the Phillies’ largest payroll ranking 13th in the league, the third option is designating him for assignment and simply take the financial hit.

Given the nature of Philadelphia fans, initial consensus appears to be one including a future without Herrera stepping into Citizens Bank Park and donning the red and white ever again. Once all the facts are gathered and holes filled in the story, the Phillies will need to make a final decision on Herrera, and whatever option they choose will come with repercussions regardless.

Jason Kates is a contributor to Bronx to Bushville.

 

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