Will Rollins return next year?

Jimmy Rollins is close to becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)
Jimmy Rollins is close to becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 28, 2011

It had all the usual trappings of a traditional sporting event, even though it wasn't anything of the sort. There was music and a video screen for replays. Fans and media members milled about. And the national anthem was performed - though, despite all the flags hanging from light posts overhead (Qatar, Puerto Rico, El Salvador), no one remembered to provide the American version. Oops.

A huge chunk of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 20th Street and the Art Museum was shut down Monday so Jimmy Rollins could attempt to break the Guinness world record for the longest batted ball. It was all part of something called "Red Bull Cranks," which is either a reference to the prepackaged production or a neat summary of the uncomfortable, jittery high produced when you bang back too many of those energy drinks.

Anyway, there was Rollins in his Red Bull hat and his Red Bull jersey (no Red Bull shoes; he went with red Jordans instead) attempting to best Babe Ruth's record of 576 feet. Ruth did it with a wooden bat. Rollins was armed with a hollowed-out metal bat engineered by people he called "science guys."

It was that sort of promotion - over- choreographed theater complete with plenty of product placement and an ESPN3 simulcast for good measure. In the end, even with the super bat - which looked a lot like the ones carried by suburban slow-pitch warriors with beer bellies - Rollins' best effort went 463 feet, well shy of the record.

No one seemed to care - at least not the slew of Phils fans who showed up to support the shortstop. They ostensibly like watching him play - on the Parkway or, better yet, at Citizens Bank Park. The question is how much longer they'll be able to do the latter.

"That will definitely handle itself," said Rollins, who is in the final year of his contract with the Fightin's. "Right now, I'm playing in front of [the Philly fans], and that's what's important. If I have a good season, more than likely I'll be here. If I have a bad season, that will definitely make for some hard decisions."

Indeed. Stay or go. The time for decisions, hard or otherwise, is rapidly approaching. You could see it unfolding either way for Rollins, who is reportedly making $8.5 million this season and is close to becoming a free agent for the first time in his career.

He's 32 now and will turn 33 before pitchers and catchers report to spring training next season. Age is a factor in all this. So is performance. He is well removed from the memorable 2007 season when he carried the Phils to the postseason and was named National League MVP for his effort. Last year, when he played in just 88 games because of injuries, he recorded his lowest OBP ever (.296), and his OPS of .694 was his lowest since 2002.

This season, meanwhile, has been up and down. He broke out of an 0-for-15 slump with four hits on Sunday, raising his average to .260. Among major league shortstops, he's ranked third in runs, sixth in home runs, eighth in RBIs, 11th in both OBP and OPS, and 13th in batting average. Some of those rankings are good - others not so high. And yet he remains an excellent shortstop (he's sixth among MLB shortstops in fielding percentage) and a significant clubhouse presence.

So you wonder: What is Rollins worth, and will he be back? Again, so much of this has to do with his age, his performance, and what price he'll command. According to the Cot's Baseball Contracts website, the Phils have an awful lot of money committed for next season, and most of that is promised to players who are already 30 or older. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are owed $20 million each in 2012. Then there's Chase Utley ($15.3 million), Joe Blanton ($10.5 million), Shane Victorino ($9.5 million), Placido Polanco (a bargain at $6.4 million), and Carlos Ruiz ($3.7 million). There's also the matter of a $1.5 million buyout for Brad Lidge, and a club option at $16 million for Roy Oswalt. Oh, and next season will mark the last year on Cole Hamels' contract. If they want to retain Hamels, and you have to think they do, they'll have to come up with a hefty sum for him as well.

Total it all up and that's a lot of money headed to a handful of players. How much would be left to throw at Rollins in the event the club wants to keep him, not to mention the other guys needed to fill out the remainder of the roster? If it came to it, would Rollins be willing to give the team a discount to stay in Philly? And are the Phils better off bringing him back or letting him walk?

There are lots of questions concerning Jimmy Rollins right now. While we wait for the answers, I'm taking side bets on how long it will be before someone - be it a fan or media member - whines/rants about how this Red Bull thing messed up Rollins' swing. Over/under is set at this weekend. I'm taking the under.


Gonzo:

To view a video of Jimmy Rollins' attempt to break the world record for the longest batted ball, go to www.philly.com/rollins


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813, gonzalez@phillynews.com or @gonzophilly on Twitter. Read his past columns at philly.com/gonzo

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