The Phillies Are Embarrassing Themselves
Last Thursday, I asked the Phillies to stop bothering Jimmy Rollins. That was after Rollins was benched for several games in a row, when manager Ryne Sandberg exuberantly praised Freddy Galvis then clammed up when asked if he could offer the same praise to Rollins. At the end of the article, I wrote, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Phillies are actively trying to sabotage Rollins, but if he were to get hurt or decide he wants out of Philadelphia, they wouldn’t exactly be upset about it.”
I may have given them too much credit. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported earlier that the Phillies want Rollins to “lead or leave”.
Before I get into it, I’d like to direct you to two excellent columns written on the subject already. David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News says we have seen this situation before with other Philadelphia athletes, namely Andre Iguodala and Donovan McNabb. At The Good Phight, David S. Cohen suggests that the Phillies are trying to appease a certain section of the Phillies’ fan base that is tired of losing and upset over a perceived lack of effort or care.
There are two roadblocks to trading Jimmy Rollins. As a result of his ten-and-five rights, Rollins can veto a trade to any team. Additionally, Rollins will earn $11 million this season and his $11 million option for 2015 will vest if he accumulates 434 more plate appearances. Rollins got to 434 plate appearances on July 26 last season. Unless he suffers an injury and has to spend more than two months on the disabled list, Rollins will trigger that option. Teams, like the Tigers, may need a shortstop like Rollins, but they won’t want to commit to a 35-year-old for two years and $22 million.
Neither roadblock should be blamed on Rollins. Ten-and-five rights are collectively bargained, so Rollins has every right to exercise that option. Pat Burrell once vetoed a potential trade to the Baltimore Orioles, but he wasn’t seen as a problem, so no one batted an eye over it. (Note: this was a result of a full no-trade clause included in his six-year, $50 million extension, not ten-and-five rights.) If the Phillies didn’t want Rollins to exercise his ten-and-five rights, they should have moved him before the achievement, or let him become a free agent after the 2011 season.
The Phillies are fully responsible for the consequences of Rollins’ current contract situation, including the vesting option. Rollins didn’t hold a gun to GM Ruben Amaro‘s head and demand an $11 million option for 2015 which vests if he accumulates 1,100 plate appearances between 2013-14; it was negotiated between the Phillies, and Rollins and his agent Dan Lozano. The Phillies also signed contracts with vesting options with Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Amaro likes vesting options.
But that’s only half of the issue. Ryne Sandberg, entering his first full season as the Phillies’ manager, wants to change the culture of the team. It sounds like it is a directive from the front office.
From Olney’s article:
However, sources indicate that some in influential positions in the organization want Rollins to be a leader by investing himself more thoroughly in daily work and setting a strong example for others. If Rollins isn’t going to do that, the sentiment of some is that the team would be better off moving him as soon as possible.
Being invested “more thoroughly in daily work” and “setting a strong example” is vague, perhaps intentionally so from Olney’s sources. Does it mean Rollins only takes 50 grounders in warm-ups compared to 100? Is he taking cuts at 60 percent effort in the batting cage? Does he not do any prep work in terms of reading scouting reports and watching video? Until we know exactly how Rollins isn’t living up to their standards, those that are livid at Rollins are simply taking the front office’s word for it. Why they should get the benefit of the doubt over Rollins, considering the available evidence and the shortstop’s previous body of work, escapes me.
The Phillies are right that trading Rollins would benefit the team more than having him play out the final two years of his contract. Allowing Freddy Galvis to play every day could help him maximize his potential, even if that potential would still fall well short of Rollins’ best seasons. Then, the Phillies can freely develop J.P. Crawford. However, the Phillies made their bed and now they have to lie in it. Making Rollins out to be the bad guy, so that he receives constant vitriol from angry fans and constant questioning from the media to create a hostile work environment so that he might one day waive his ten-and-five rights, is petty and wrong on several levels.
The Phillies come out of this looking poorly, and it will in the future negatively impact their ability to A) sign their own quality players to team-friendly contracts; and B) sign impact free agents. This is similar to the Ben Wetzler situation, where the Phillies felt slighted and the response was disproportional to the impact.
The creation of their analytics department, when they made Scott Freedman a full-time employee, was supposed to be the dawning of a new era for Phillies baseball, ushering them into the 21st century at long last. But it seems the Phillies are still stuck in antiquated ways of thinking. For instance, that an injury-prone shortstop in his mid-30’s must display effort and care at all times else he is a blight on the team. More embarrassing, though, is that they seem unable to solve the very same puzzles (contracts) they have created for themselves.