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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14 comments

  1. Joecatz

    December 02, 2013 08:16 AM

    Bill I’m not sure I get this based on your analysis. Basically you have two opportunities to trade Rollins.

    Now.
    Deadline.

    Now isn’t happening unless he waives his NT.

    Your saving about $5mm at the deadline and assuming he gets enough PA for 2015 the option.

    Yet your saying he won’t net much return so are you saying you move him for salary relief?

    If you capitalize on trading Rollins you have to do it now, and doing it now is basically not possible.

  2. JM

    December 02, 2013 08:48 AM

    Your last paragraph says it all. I cannot see him approving any trade until he has as many Phils records as he is possibly going to get. That makes him a mid-season trade at best. Too, I think the only place he would agree to go is to Oakland, where he already has his own parking spot. I am not so sure Oakland needs/wants either his contract or his bat.

  3. yizzit

    December 02, 2013 09:54 AM

    @joe

    Bill could be bringing this up as the winter meetings kick off this week. As in, something we should consider if teams make a few inquiries on the SS. That’s how I read it anyway.

  4. Joecatz

    December 02, 2013 10:27 AM

    Oh I agree that shopping Rollins makes sense right now if there’s a team willing to overpay and Rollins is willing to accept a trade. That said the article basically says neither of those things can happen.

    What further compounds this is even if Rollins would approve a trade, if the return is as Bill predicts, a bench bat or non prospect what are you really accomplishing? You pick up $10mm or so but that money has to be put back on the field for it to make any sense. So unless you think there’s a player out there that money helps sign I don’t get it.

    If Rollins nets you value? Different story.

    You don’t trade Rollins for a bench bat and salary relief though.

  5. Dante

    December 02, 2013 11:24 AM

    First part is analyzing whether this will actually happen: Why would Ruben trade Rollins when he is trying to be in win-now mode himself? Even if some can argue we can get roughly similar production from a Galvis at SS, Amaro won’t trade a franchise cornerstone for a relative unknown, whose floor as a regular is much lower than Rollins’.

    Second, if he were to be traded, where could he end up? None of the 4 teams you mention do I see trading for Rollins, let alone him waiving his 10-5 rights for them. Boston has Boegarts at SS, who they are rightfully ready to roll with this year. KC has a young controllable SS still realizing his potential, and they are unlikely to simply give up at this point considering how productive he still could be. As you mention, Brendon Ryan was just resigned as the caddy for Jeter – why would they suddenly be interested in Rollins, especially as an expensive backup (and why would Rollins want this situation?) Lastly, hte Mets know they could use an upgrade, but they are not in a win-now mode and can afford to be patient.

    I think the option always floated with Rollins, heading back home to Oakland, still makes the most sense. He can be the stopgap for Addison Russell (who could arrive by 2015), and he moves Lowrie to 2B, where his bat plays well and his defense improves. This team is ready to go for it, and if the Phils pick up a few mil they could get an interesting prospect or maybe a big league bullpen piece (Jerry Blevins, who might get non-tendered?). Oakland also gets a deep bench with Punto and Sogard in the infield.

  6. yizzit

    December 02, 2013 11:40 AM

    On an unrelated note, Navarro is going Toronto on a 2 yr., 8 mill. total deal and now my heart hurts.

  7. Major Malfunction

    December 02, 2013 01:07 PM

    10-5 rights and “I’m so close to breaking most Phillies records”. 2 reasons JRo ain’t going anywhere.

    Jimmie Rollins plays for Jimmie Rollins, these days. I’d love to see a bounce back season, but as the article states, the odds are stacked against that. He still thinks he’s the best in the leadoff spot regardless of his inability to get on base or hit the ball on the ground.

    For the next 2 years, get use to a wasted $11m/year, a 0.5 WAR at SS, and Sandberg having Freddie Galvis doing everything but taking out the line up card in order to get him playing time.

  8. yo

    December 02, 2013 01:16 PM

    If Jimmy was holding back a Boegarts (or someone that is 1/2 of a Boegarts) or if they could really get something for him, I’d understand why they’d trade him. But, if they’re basically getting back $ relief, then it really doesn’t make any sense. The only thing that makes less sense is the continued refrain about how selfish Jimmmy is.

    But, it’s Philly, so we have to kill all of our heroes on their way out….

  9. joecatz

    December 02, 2013 04:37 PM

    “On an unrelated note, Navarro is going Toronto on a 2 yr., 8 mill. total deal and now my heart hurts.”

    Why?

    you realize the guy has caught a TOTAL of 129 games since the start of 2011, right? basically because he’s an average at best defensive catcher. and he’s a platoon one at that.

  10. Pat

    December 02, 2013 05:01 PM

    Agree with Dante that Oakland seems to make the most sense. He won’t ok a trade to KC, and the Yankees and Red Sox have better options on their rosters. The Mets don’t feel like a good fit given Rollins history with them, they’re in the same division, and the fact they’re probably not one piece away from contending.

  11. Pencilfish

    December 02, 2013 05:19 PM

    “You don’t trade Rollins for a bench bat and salary relief though.”

    This is specially true because $5M will not make or break the 2014 team performance-wise.
    While Rollins may be in sharp decline offensively, is he still an average or above-average defensive SS? That alone provides value on a team with so many existing holes.

  12. LTG

    December 02, 2013 07:02 PM

    “While Rollins may be in sharp decline offensively, is he still an average or above-average defensive SS?”

    Maybe and maybe not.
    2013 UZR: -2.7
    2013 DRS: -15

    All the caveats about defensive metrics apply. But the negative measurements agree with many people’s eye tests. If I were another team I would not consider Rollins a defensive asset right now unless I have a blackhole at SS.

  13. Josh G

    December 03, 2013 12:24 AM

    Id bet Galvis provides more defensive value than Rollins.

  14. BobSmith77

    December 03, 2013 12:09 PM

    JRoll said in so many words that he would accept a trade right now and even if the Phils moved him what would they get in return?

    Bigger issue is what happens if JRoll plays at the same level he did last year and his vesting option for ’15 becomes a realistic possibility. Good chance that could get ugly including JRoll’s comments to the media.

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