It was late August 2008. Charlie Manuel just got another question about Carlos Ruiz, who hit .219 that season. He had been answering questions about Chooch for months.
Why is this guy still in the lineup?
Isn’t there a better option?
What about Lou Marson?
“If everyone else was hitting, we wouldn’t even be talking about Ruiz,” Manuel finally said.
The former manager's response comes to mind as president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski talked this week in Atlanta about Odúbel Herrera and the Phillies’ lack of production in center field. Phillies center fielders have a .644 OPS, which ranks 18th in baseball. They have been in the bottom 10 in OPS in each of the previous four seasons, making this an annual source of frustration for fans. But Dombrowski echoed Manuel’s thoughts about Ruiz, when asked about Herrera.
“You’re not going to have nine stars at different positions,” Dombrowski said. “You have to have some complementary players. I mean, our star players are [J.T.] Realmuto, [Rhys] Hoskins, [Jean] Segura, Didi [Gregorius] has been out … [Bryce] Harper, [Nick] Castellanos and [Kyle] Schwarber. Those are your stars.
"You have to have some complementary players. [Herrera is] a complementary player. He’s not a star.”
Herrera is maddening to watch at times because when he makes a mistake, it is often an incredible one. He swung at a ball that traveled through his legs a couple weekends ago in Los Angeles. He got thrown out by eight feet at home plate and swung at another pitch that landed a couple feet in front of the plate last weekend. He let an errant throw roll underneath his glove on Wednesday, which allowed the Braves to score the go-ahead run from second base.
Herrera is streaky. He played poorly earlier this month, but he is 6-for-11 (.546) with two doubles, one homer and four RBIs in his past three games. Herrera (0.4 bWAR, 0.7 fWAR) is batting .284 with three home runs, 12 RBIs, an .832 OPS and a 136 OPS+, meaning he is 36 percent more productive than league average. Defensively, he is 1 outs above average, according to Statcast. He has -2 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.
Could the Phillies have found a more reliable option in center field in the offseason? Starling Marte (1.0 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR) signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Mets before the lockout. He is batting .274 with four homers, 25 RBIs, a .715 OPS and a 107 OPS+. Chris Taylor (0.9 bWAR, 1.1 fWAR) signed a four-year, $60 million deal to remain in Los Angeles, as expected. He is batting .260 with five homers, 21 RBIs, an .818 OPS and a 129 OPS+. The Phillies kicked the tires on Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (1.1 bWAR, 0.8 fWAR), but they considered the price too steep. He is batting .239 with six homers, 14 RBIs, a .718 OPS and a 116 OPS+.
Each would be an upgrade, but none would have solved the Phillies’ major issues. The reality is the Phillies need their stars to get going, just like Manuel needed his stars to get going in 2008.
Manuel frequently reminded reporters that Ruiz was his No. 8 hitter. If he needed his No. 8 hitter to save the team, he said, they are in trouble. The same holds true for Herrera, who is the Phillies’ No. 8/9 hitter.
If the top seven hitters are doing their jobs, it should not matter who is hitting eighth or ninth, whether it’s Herrera, Roman Quinn, Mickey Moniak, Matt Vierling or somebody else.
Moniak continued his rehab assignment this week with Double-A Reading. He could be back at some point. Dombrowski tempered expectations for Moniak’s potential return.
“Mickey Moniak was probably a big loss for us,” Dombrowski said. “If he would have continued playing the way he did at the end of Spring Training … I can’t say he would do that because I’ve seen many guys have great Spring Trainings and not have good regular seasons and vice versa. I’m not saying he’s going to be [back] because I don’t even know what’s going to happen. But he’s another guy that we’re looking at. But Odúbel’s done OK for us.”