By Connor Thomas
There were numerous positions that needed to be sorted out for the Philadelphia Phillies ahead of the start of the MLB season this Thursday. The starting rotation needed a retool, the bullpen needed a full on rebuild, and there were signings and re-signings needed to bolster the infield. Now, with only 2 days standing between the team and their opening game against the Atlanta Braves, all of these needs have been filled to a certain extent. Well, with the exception of one. The Phillies may have the most interesting Center Field situation in all of the majors, and while they have made an initial roster decision, we are still a ways away from having a sure choice to patrol the patch of grass right in front of Ashburn Alley. Yesterday, the team made an announcement that gave some clarity to their thoughts on the matter, informing Odubel Herrera that he would be reporting to the alternate team site, and telling Adam Haseley that he had made the opening day roster. There was much speculation on Herrera’s chance to make the opening day roster, and most was not related to his on the field ability.
Of course you’ll remember that back in May of 2019, news broke of an incident where Herrera physically assaulted his then girlfriend, leading to a lengthy suspension from the team and ultimately a nearly 2 year absence from the sport. Because of this, it was a shock to some that, heading into 2021 Spring Training, the Phillies decided to extend an invite to Herrera to compete for the starting CF spot. There was outrage from numerous fans and media members alike when the team extended this second chance to Herrera, but there was a clear reason why the Phils took on this PR nightmare: Herrera was easily their most talented option at the position. The other two choices to start in center were Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn. Haseley has shown some promise during his 2 years in the majors, but has also had some clear deficiencies in his game including a lack of production numbers at the plate and the perceived inability to hit left handed pitching. Quinn is often injured, and is essentially a one trick pony, though it is a very valuable trick being that he has elite speed and is considered to be one of the 2 fastest players in the sport. Outside of his speed, his stat sheet has been devoid of power numbers, and he needs to show more consistency both at the plate and in the field. Herrera, for all his faults as a human being, was an above average Center Fielder during his 4 full seasons prior to being suspended, even making an All-Star team in 2016. Sure, he looks goofy at the plate and in the field sometimes, but the stat sheet doesn’t lie – he has shown more talent than Haseley or Quinn when you compare the 3’s time in the majors. Herrera even showed flashes of his old self during Spring Training this year, proving that he has clearly worked diligently towards a return to baseball when a team would see fit to give him an opportunity.
So why, then, was he sent down in favor of Haseley and Quinn for the Phillies’ Opening Day Roster? Regardless of what anyone will tell you, there is one reason why Herrera will not be starting in Center Field on Thursday: the team does not want to deal with the negative publicity of giving Herrera that opportunity. Now, I am not here to argue which side of this argument is right or wrong. There is a complex moral dilemma here that unfortunately rears its head when competitive sports have to choose between righteousness and competitiveness, and truthfully, I do not have a perfect answer. What I do know, is strictly in a baseball sense, the Phillies are now placing themselves in a situation where their most talented option at a position will be practicing in Lehigh in front of a few coaches and no fans. Monday will see either Haseley or Quinn take the field underneath the flag poles in center. Only time will tell how their season will shake out. But the Center Field saga is far from over. Roman Quinn seemingly gets hurt every other time he runs down the first base line. To not call up Herrera in that instance would be even more negligent than not having him available Thursday. What if Haseley struggles mightily to start the year? Will a fan base that hasn’t seen a playoff team in nearly a decade begin to clamor for wins at any cost, even the cost of calling up a PR problem that produces more? This will be an ongoing debate that will most likely rage on throughout the summer, and has the potential to escalate if the team proves they are going to be in the late playoff push as fall turns. There are plenty of levels to curious case of center field in Philadelphia, and make no mistake; the decision to not have Herrera on the opening roster does not mean that this story is over. Not by a long shot.