Oct 28, 2011, 11:29 AM EDT
Derek Jeter could never be confused with Jimmy Rollins. Jeter is an internationally-recognized star and first ballot Hall of Famer. He has over 3,000 hits, is an 11-time All Star, and a five-time World Champion. I don’t like the guy — at all — but ordinarily I would never even think to use J-Roll’s name in the same sentence.
Except this time last year, Jeter was embroiled in bitter contract negotiations with the New York Yankees. He had spent 16 seasons in the Bronx, defined his legacy wearing those pinstripes, and did his part to re-establish the franchise as a Major League powerhouse. Yet despite everything he accomplished, everything he meant to the organization, there was a very real possibility he could have wound up finishing out his career someplace else.
It’s from there we can begin to draw some parallels.
Rollins played for the Phillies before it was cool. He toiled away on losing ball clubs, risked his livelihood on the unforgiving Vet turf. When the time finally came to talk extension, Jimmy signed on for five more years during the ’05 season, committing the prime of his career to Philadelphia without so much as testing the market.
And he became a nice little ballplayer, too. Maybe he’s not on Jeter’s level, but Rollins has been the catalyst for this offense for the last decade. He’s a three-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, the National League MVP in 2007, and part of the 2008 team that delivered this city it’s first World Championship in 25 years. Some would argue they would not have won it all were it not for his swagger… that he’s the heart and soul of that clubhouse.
Wouldn’t it be weird, almost wrong, seeing Jimmy Rollins under another hat?
Has he perhaps earned the opportunity to retire with the Phillies?
For the purpose of full disclosure, I thought the business with Jeter was bull when it was going down. Loyalty in professional sports, while a concept I fully appreciate and endorse, is just that: a concept. It’s a romantic ideal that simply doesn’t mesh with the reality that executives have to make cold, hard decisions with the resources that are available to them in order to put the best possible product on the field.
With that in mind, I am not advocating some type of sign-Jimmy-at-all-costs strategy. The number of years has to make sense, the trade-off probably being they would have to overpay a little.
I would be okay with that.
Obviously he’s going to decline. In fact, it’s started already. He seems prone to injury. His power numbers have dipped, his speed has diminished, and he’s not even hitting for as high an average as we’ve become accustomed — which wasn’t always that high in the first place.
Yet there are some advantages to retaining a Rollins. His defense is as good as ever, and there is no reason to think he couldn’t play a better shortstop than anybody who might replace him. Speaking of replacement, we still have no idea where that will come from. Clear-cut options are limited: spend a butt-load more money on Jose Reyes, or promote the untested Freddy Galvez. If another solution pops up, besides bringing in some stopgap, I’m all ears, but that’s all we’ve got so far. At the very least, Rollins is serviceable.
And here’s a factor the front office needs to consider: Jimmy’s name alone might be worth a contract. Shirts with “Rollins 11″ will continue to sell, maybe even more so as fans become increasingly appreciative of his service, as will jerseys, collectibles, and all of his other personalized merchandise. He’s a popular player — as he should be after 12 seasons — and as much as some fans would like to see the team upgrade, I don’t get the sense there is a huge contingent trying to run the guy out of town either.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t even entirely sell myself on the positives of Jimmy Rollins staying in Philadelphia, or the very idea of re-signing a player whose best days are behind him. I only know it feels wrong he might leave. This incredible run, it all started with him, all started with his famous remark, “This is the team to beat.”
Maybe the Phillies should be the team to beat if another town wants to acquire Jimmy Rollins. Then again, maybe Jimmy Rollins doesn’t mean quite that much to Philadelphia.
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