Phillies GM hints at letting Rollins walk

If Jimmy Rollins leaves, it will allow the Phillies to make major changes in the offseason. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
If Jimmy Rollins leaves, it will allow the Phillies to make major changes in the offseason. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 12, 2011

In Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies face their toughest single personnel decision of this century. It is their Brian Dawkins moment.

There is no way to overstate what Rollins has meant to this franchise or his importance in its turnaround from irrelevant also-ran to championship-winning obsession of this city. He is the one who set the table, both in the lineup and in daring to imagine the Phillies, for all their hangdog history, as one of the elite teams in baseball.

But he is about to turn 33 and become eligible for a crazy free-agent offer from another team. He is still an essential element in this team's winning chemistry and a great defensive shortstop. He is not the offensive threat he was at his peak, in 2007, but he can still get hot and be a dynamic part of the lineup.

It is as impossible to imagine him playing in another uniform as it was to imagine Dawkins in that garish Denver Broncos costume.

And yet . . .

As general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. treated fans to (imagine!) an intelligent and respectful analysis of this roster and its challenges for 2012, a little warning light kept blinking in the back of your mind. While Amaro said that keeping Rollins is a "priority" - and surely it is - the subtext of everything else he said supported moving on from the little big man.

Amaro said the team needs to infuse some youth into its lineup, and he is right. This team is getting old right before our eyes. It looked positively ancient in the disappointing playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Chase Utley adjusting to his chronic knee condition? Placido Polanco playing with a series of injuries, including a double sports hernia? Ryan Howard's Achilles tendon snapping after two years of pain in his left heel? Rollins' own series of leg injuries?

One word covers all of that: old.

Howard, 31, is about to begin his first season under the five-year extension that pays him $25 million a year. And he will begin it rehabbing a devastating injury. That has to be one of the beads on Amaro's abacus as he calculates the risk/reward of re-signing Rollins.

A five-year commitment, which Rollins rightfully wants after being relatively underpaid for his prime years, would take him into his late 30s. If the Phillies don't give it to him, somebody else will, just as Dawkins found a team willing to overpay when the Eagles sought to do a shorter, more reasonable deal.

Amaro also talked about the lineup's need to change its overall approach. That's understandable after watching St. Louis' smart, patient hitters take advantage of Phillies pitchers' strength, their ability to pound the strike zone. Meanwhile, the undisciplined Phillies made the Cards' average pitchers look like aces and their ace, Chris Carpenter, look unhittable.

"We just don't have the same offensive team that we had in 2008," Amaro said. "We have to realize that and work with it. We should have more .300 hitters. These guys have the ability to do it, whether they are committed to doing it or not."

All of that starts with the leadoff hitter. Rollins has been a spectacularly effective weapon in that role, but he has never been the prototypical leadoff man. Can he become one now? And if not, who among Polanco and Utley and Shane Victorino is going to be the high on-base percentage guy instead?

If that sounds like an argument for letting Rollins move on, well, it's not quite that simple. Going back to the Dawkins analogy, the hardest part isn't letting a popular player go. It's replacing him adequately. Amaro acknowledged that the organization is divided on whether Freddy Galvis is ready to step in and compete at the major-league level.

Easy solution: Ask the guys who thought Domonic Brown could replace Jayson Werth and go with the opposite opinion. To part with Rollins and then have Galvis flop the way Brown did this year would be beyond disastrous.

Amaro has a couple of options for improving this lineup: left field, which is vacated by Ibanez, and possibly third base. Polanco has another year on his contract, but it makes much more sense to pay him as a kind of super sub. It will be easier for Charlie Manuel to rest Utley and others if he can plug Polanco into the lineup.

It would be easy and popular to give Rollins the deal he wants and make him a career Phillie. If Amaro goes that way, he'll get no complaints here. There are intangibles involved, something else the Eagles learned with Dawkins.

But the little warning light blinked most brightly when Amaro said, "Change is good." If Rollins moves on, that gives the GM the chance to make more profound change.

Whether that's good or not, we'll know next October.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

|
|
|
|
|