Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rollins baited by Phillies

This is a Phillies column that I wrote for the Gettysburg Times, but since the website now has a paywall, I'm posting it here too. Enjoy!

The Phillies did not retain Jimmy Rollins for $33 million; they got him for 34.

The offseason Hot Stove requires strategy one might use in chess and Philadelphia moved a queen over to the bullpen to protect King Rollins. That queen’s name is Dontrelle Willis.

Not many teams took the bait on the 33-year-old Rollins when he tested the free agent waters due to the money and years he was expecting. Such a well-known but weathered veteran - with an on-base percentage that paled in comparison to his peers even at his peak - was only going to get that from the one team for which he played his entire professional career (think Derek Jeter).

However, I think it’s more than just coincidence that after the Phillies break weeks of relative silence on the acquisition front with Willis’ signing for $1 million, they announce the return of his Oakland, Calif. homeboy a few days later.

It makes sense to me why J-Roll might have needed that extra push. His team is now expected to win the World Series every year, but 2008 still stands alone. The start of each season probably isn’t as fun now that the sharp-tongued shortstop has everyone telling him his team is the one to beat, but seeing the familiar face of Willis should be a welcome change.

And Willis should be such for the Phillies as well. In the role of relief pitcher, the “D Train” might finally be allowed to leave the station.

While the former Rookie of the Year has an ERA of 5.65 since 2007, the one thing he still excels at is getting left-handed hitters out (holding them to a .127 batting average last year as a member of the Cincinnati Reds). He only turns 30 next month so he should have plenty of gas left in the tank.

I just hope moving to a contending team won’t be too overwhelming for the head case. He tends to unravel after a couple batters reach base.

Still, the Philadelphia bullpen is far from my most pressing concern for the upcoming season. I’m thrilled Rollins made the move that will likely keep him with the Phillies for the rest of his career. He’s a leader in the clubhouse and still an above-average defender, but a lineup with him, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard just isn’t intimidating to opposing pitchers anymore.

The occasional burst of the old production will be enough to compliment the dominant pitching staff during the regular season, but I don’t see it showing up against the elite arms it will face in the playoffs. The Phillies left that ability in 2009, and Hunter Pence (as much as I love the way he plays the game) is not enough to make up the difference.

Unfortunately, the limited options of reliable free agent, right-handed outfielders have already signed with other teams. The only one left with any clout is San Francisco’s Cody Ross. Fans remember well how he destroyed Philly pitching in the 2010 NLCS, but the Giants are even more starved for offense than the Phillies. Not to mention the nearly $7-8 million Ross will demand. Chances are, he’ll stay right where he is.

But next October is far away, and there’s a whole season to enjoy before then. I’m glad I get to enjoy the next four with Jimmy Rollins.

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