The Phillies Will Have to Consider Trading Jimmy Rollins

It seems like it was just yesterday that shortstop Jimmy Rollins inked a three-year, $33 million contract to continue his career in Philadelphia. But here we are nearly two years later about to enter what could be Rollins’ final year with the Phillies. He is owed $11 million in 2014 and he does have an option for 2015 that could become guaranteed if he logs 434 plate appearances in 2014 and stays off the disabled list at the end of the season.

Rollins is coming off of what was arguably the worst season of his career and certainly his worst within the past ten seasons. His wOBA dropped to .295, which was the ninth-worst in baseball among 140 qualified hitters, per FanGraphs. He had finished at .309 or better in every season dating back to 2003. His isolated power dropped below .100 after ranging from .124 to .235 throughout his career. His strikeout rate was his highest since 2004. His BABIP was at a five-year high at .288 but he still could only muster a .252 batting average.

Back in July, I discussed the curious loss of power, concluding:

Taken in isolation, you could chalk either of the two symptoms — the loss of power, the poor base running — to a fluke, something fixable. Taken together, unfortunately, I think you have to conclude that Rollins has hit the proverbial wall. He is officially old now.

FanGraphs valued Rollins at 1.6 Wins Above Replacement while Baseball Reference put him at 0.2. The range puts him between replacement level and average. In fairness, his 2013 season still could have been a fluke, but given his age, historical precedent suggests Rollins is unlikely to bounce back and be an above-average contributor, be it in 2014 or 2015.

While the Phillies aren’t blessed with a true Major League-caliber shortstop ready to take over, one has to wonder if Freddy Galvis would be equally or more productive than Rollins. If Galvis could be, the Phillies ought to think about trading Rollins while he still has some perceived value in a dry shortstop market. To illustrate just how barren the shortstop market is, consider that Jhonny Peralta got a four-year, $52 million deal from the Cardinals despite finishing below 2 WAR in four out of the last six seasons, according to Baseball Reference (though in only one out of the last three). With Peralta gone, the Mets are strongly considering opening up the 2014 with Ruben Tejada, who posted a .519 OPS in 2013, at shortstop rather than overpay Stephen Drew on a multi-year deal or settle for the old and injury-prone Rafael Furcal.

Rollins would be attractive to teams in need of a shortstop because he is relatively affordable at one or two years (depending on when the Phillies would trade him). While Rollins wouldn’t net the Phillies anything more than a bench bat or a non-prospect Minor Leaguer, moving Rollins would allow the Phillies to presumably get slightly more production out of the shortstop position while freeing up some salary and bolstering the roster in some small way (perhaps a cheap platoon bat with a few years of team control left).

Some teams that might be able to use Rollins:

  • Boston Red Sox: If the Red Sox miss out on signing Stephen Drew, trading cheaply for Rollins would allow them to move Will Middlebrooks for a more enticing haul, and move Xander Bogaerts to third base. Right now, Middlebrooks would start at third and Bogaerts would man shortstop.
  • Kansas City Royals: Alcides Escobar finished 2013 with a .559 OPS and his value comes from his speed and defense. The Royals aren’t quite the Pirates in that they haven’t taken a liking to newer defensive ideas so they’re unlikely to utilize Escobar to his fullest potential (not unlike the Marlins with Adeiny Hechavarria). Furthermore, they’re in a win-now mode, so adding a capable veteran with plenty of playoff experience would be ideal.
  • New York Yankees: They signed Brendan Ryan as a back-up to Derek Jeter but if Jeter happens to miss a long stretch of time, putting Ryan’s lackluster bat (career .619 OPS) may be unappetizing.
  • New York Mets: Ruben Tejada, as mentioned above, is not their ideal shortstop going forward. The Mets might be hesitant to trade with a division rival, but they also want to appease their fan base by making some kind of an impact move. They have been very hesitant to get involved with any of the upper-tier free agents thus far, which is why they whiffed on Peralta.

Other teams could trade their current shortstops due to a soon-to-expire contract and might want to rent Rollins, but these possibilities likely won’t open up until late July and Rollins’ vesting option would likely be a deterrent in such a case, but it is still a possibility. However, the 2015 free agent market for shortstops is exponentially more attractive, so those teams might prefer to wait.

One other possible wrench: Rollins has ten-and-five rights, which is a de facto no-trade clause as a result of Rollins’ continued tenure with the Phillies. As such, he would have to approve any deal. While he seems quite comfortable in Philly, he may approve a trade to a contender for what could be his last opportunity to win a championship.

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