Let’s Get Jimmy Rollins Locked Up

If I polled a random selection of Phillies fans about Jimmy Rollins‘ .287/.379/.374 triple-slash line, I wager most of them would express disappointment with his 2011 season thus far. They would cite the two RBI he had in his first 23 games, hitting out of the #3 spot in the batting order, and perhaps the low slugging percentage. The more Sabermetrically-inclined would be a bit less critical of Rollins, happy with the improved place discipline and walk rate, but critical nonetheless.

The reality, though, is that good shortstops are hard to find. On the SweetSpot blog, David Schoenfield wrote about the dearth of quality American League shortstops, but the problem exists in the National League as well. Yes, the NL has Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes, but after those three, there is just not much out there. Last season, the average NL shortstop posted a .713 OPS, tied with catchers for the lowest average OPS at any position.

Rollins’ current .753 OPS seems reasonable at this point, no? In early March, I discussed the potential negotiations between the Phillies and Rollins, who becomes a free agent after the season. This situation wasn’t swept up during the past off-season because the Phillies did not know what they were going to get out of Rollins. Injuries sidelined him for roughly half of the 2010 season, so he very well could have gone into this season as a huge injury risk, or with a near-empty tank.

That Rollins hasn’t started off on a blistering pace should be good news, in one respect, for the Phillies organization and for the fans. He has proven himself reliable in all facets (offense, defense, base running), but hasn’t done so in a prominent way (yet) that would draw significant interest in terms of phone calls leading up to the trading deadline and in terms of the eyeballs of other teams’ scouts towards the end of the regular season. His .753 OPS is deceptively good, especially since it’s heavy on the on-base percentage; his .348 wOBA is well above the .315 average. Effectively, Rollins’ good-but-not-great start makes him quite affordable to the Phillies, since his leverage is limited.

The Phillies don’t have any depth in the Minors when it comes to shortstops; just Freddy Galvis, a slick fielder with very little in the way of offense. Unless GM Ruben Amaro feels confident diving into the shallow pool of Major League free agent shortstops — think Miguel Tejada, currently earning $6.5 million on a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants — or resorting to his guile in manufacturing a trade, signing Rollins to a short-term extension makes a world of sense for all parties involved.

His subpar and injury-plagued seasons included, only three shortstops have been more valuable from 2008-10 than Jimmy Rollins, going by FanGraphs WAR: Hanley Ramirez (18.9), Derek Jeter (13.2), and Troy Tulowitzki (13.0). Rollins, at 10.3, should be just fine going forward.

Update: I posted a question to David Hale’s live chat today, and he was kind enough to answer:

Comment From Bill Baer (Crashburn):  Have you heard anything about Jimmy Rollins and getting him signed to a contract beyond 2011?

David Hale: Neither side has said much on the subject since the spring but I have to believe that there’s some sense within the organization that they’d like to get something done.

There isn’t a clear solution of Rollins leaves. The only real improvement on the free agent market is Reyes, and I’m not sure how much that’s a realisitic possibility.

Within the organization, there are some good defenders, but a lot of offensive question marks.

Jimmy’s looked improved this year in the early going — and if that continues for another month or two, and he’s not asking for a ton of years — I’m guessing something gets done.

Make sure to follow Hale on Twitter (@Philled_In) and check out his blog Philled In for Phillies news and analysis.

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On a tangential note, Vance Worley‘s success (now known as “Vance Vance Revolution” as per Matt Gelb) is great for the Phillies. Stop me when I start sounding crazy.  It’s great not just because he’s helped the team win, but because it makes Joe Blanton expendable. Worley may not be a true 0.75 ERA pitcher (tongue firmly in cheek), but his Minor League numbers over 403 innings suggest he should be about as good as Blanton given his strikeout and walk rates, the best predictors for a pitcher’s future performance.

Blanton will earn $8.5 million both this year and next. Should the Phillies feel a need to clear salary, they can do so by making Blanton available. Blanton would represent an upgrade to most teams’ starting rotations. Assuming the Phillies aren’t interested in receiving any legitimate prospects in a Blanton deal, finding a team to consume the remainder of Blanton’s contract should be rather easy.

In another scenario, the Phillies may still be looking for outfield or second base help going into late July, depending on how things shape up with Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, and Domonic Brown. Blanton could certainly net the Phillies an everyday corner outfielder or second baseman, provided they cover most of his remaining salary.

On the other hand, Worley provides the Phillies quality insurance in the event a starting pitcher succumbs to injury, as was the case with Blanton. If the Phillies use Blanton to eat salary or make an offensive upgrade, that means Kyle Kendrick would be the first line of defense, a scenario no Phillies fan wants to envision. With Roy Oswalt‘s back problems, the Phillies will be weighing the pros and cons of a multitude of possible transactions as the season progresses.