Phillies Should Take Rollins Off the Market

This article was prepared unknowing that Matt Gelb and David Hale covered the same subject. For a similar take with a different spin, check out Gelb’s article for the Inquirer and Hale’s for Delaware Online.

With three-fifths of the regular season already over, the potential end of Jimmy Rollins‘ Phillies career is closer than many realize. The 32-year-old shortstop has been a fixture of the Phillies since 2001, but his continued presence in Philly has been pushed aside with the looming free agency of Ryan Madson and (potentially) Brad Lidge, as well as the final year of arbitration for Cole Hamels. The Phillies have a lot of important decisions to make once their season is over; retaining Rollins is on the itinerary, but it doesn’t appear to be at the top of the list.

Quietly, Rollins has rebounded from two awful, injury-plagued seasons in 2009 and ’10. In ’09, he accrued 725 plate appearances, but his overall production plummeted: his on-base percentage fell below .300 and his .250 batting average was his lowest since ’02. Last year, Rollins suffered three injuries: a calf strain, a re-aggravation of the calf strain, and a thigh strain. As a result, he came to the plate only 394 times, most of them as a shadow of his former self. His batting average dipped below .250 and hit for considerably less power; his .131 ISO was his lowest since ’03.

In ’09 and ’10 combined, Rollins posted less fWAR than he did in ’08 alone (5.6 to 5.4). Phillies fans, as a whole, seemed to quickly jive with the idea of turning over a new leaf at shortstop. A slow start to the ’11 season by Rollins and a surprisingly productive start by prospect Freddy Galvis in Double-A Reading only seemed to reinforce those feelings. (Galvis is currently hitting .265/.319/.389.)

Rollins appeared to have hit his stride with a 4-for-4 day against the Oakland Athletics on June 26. But he followed that up with one hit in his next 17 at-bats spanning four games. Was that all the future holds for J-Roll? One good day for every four bad days? Since the start of July, however, Rollins seems to have actually hit his stride. In 17 games, he has posted a .988 OPS with eight extra-base hits (four doubles, four homers) and five stolen bases.

On the season, Rollins has walked exactly as often as he has struck out (40 times). His batting average and on-base percentage are at pre-2009 levels while his power is quickly catching up. His elite defense has never wavered and he is still as smart and as aggressive a base runner as he has always been. His 3.3 fWAR through 98 games this season has already surpassed that of the previous two and he is on pace for 5.3 fWAR in 700 PA. Only five shortstops have been more valuable than Rollins this year.

J.J. Hardy, sitting on 2.1 fWAR, recently signed a three-year, $22.25 million contract extension with the Baltimore Orioles. The market for shortstops will be thin, with just Jose Reyes and Rollins leading an underwhelming group that includes Alex Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and Cesar Izturis. If the Phillies feel that committing Hardy-esque money to Rollins is ill-fated, they would have to take one of three actions: do nothing and rely on Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, and Galvis; go with one of the underwhelming free agent shortstops mentioned; or make a trade for a shortstop (such as Jhonny Peralta). Of course, a fourth option does exist, which is out-bid several other teams for the services of Reyes, but it is very unlikely and almost impossible that the Phillies do so.

When you consider the available options for both the Phillies and Rollins, the continued marriage between the two makes a lot of sense. The Phillies retain a quietly very-productive shortstop who doubles as a powerful marketing tool; Rollins stays the face of a franchise, one that will have a great opportunity to win a World Series in each of the next several years. It may not happen now or even soon, but a contract extension for Rollins makes too much sense.

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