WASHINGTON The way Jimmy Rollins sees it, every season is a contract year. Its just that sometimes a guy doesn't have a job lined up for the next season.
And so for the first time in 12 major league seasons, Rollins faces the possibility of facing an off-season as a free agent. According to sources, it's a predicament that wont be ironed out until the end of the season since Rollins representatives and the Phillies will not discuss an extension during the season.
Nevertheless, if there is a legacy that Rollins has built during his career with the Phillies, its one of winning, says the shortstop. In fact, in an exclusive interview with CSNPhilly, Rollins says the Phillies unprecedented run of five straight NL East titles and postseason dashes was spawned from a sentence he spoke before the 2007 season.
When Rollins claimed the Phillies were, The team to beat, it was a precursor to all that the team has achieved, he said.
In short, yeah. Without 2007, without me coming out saying, Were the team to beat, without all of that, the organization operates the way it always has -- thats just willing to be competitive and going out there fielding a team and hoping one day we'll be good, Rollins told CSN. Since that day theres no longer a hope. It was, We have to prove it every single time out here. Then fans showed up. With fans came money. Then players came over. Then better players came over. Then we won the World Series in between all of that. And this is where we are today. And it started with that little mustard seed and that little spark. Without that, I don't think it would be the same.
Interestingly, the Phillies will face the off-season with a few tough choices. After all, not only will Rollins be a free agent, but Ryan Madson and Raul Ibanez are playing out the last months of their contracts while lefty Cole Hamels heads into an arbitration year with free agency looming.
The Phillies have more than 109 million committed to nine players for 2012, which does not include salaries for players like Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Jose Contreras or Hamels.
Still, its tough to imagine the Phillies not coming to some sort of extension for Rollins.
Thats always a tough decision, Rollins said about his looming free agency. But its a decision everybody has to live with. You play to win. After winning, you play to make a living. If you have a chance to become a free agent, thats your decision whether you want to do something now or see whats out there. You can become a free agent and not go anywhere.
Rollins is in the last year of a six-year, 46.5 million deal he signed in June of 2005 when Ed Wade was the general manager of the Phillies. At the time, it was believed that Rollins got the better deal in terms of length of contract, but the Phillies made out in terms of salary. However, during the time since Rollins signed his deal, the Phillies have doled out big contracts to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hamels, Ryan Howard, Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley and even Joe Blanton.
In terms of salary, Rollins, a three-time All-Star and NL MVP in 2007, is the 10th-highest paid player on the team.
As far as shortstops go, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and J.J. Hardy are all better paid than Rollins. Still, if the Phillies are to re-sign Rollins, he could command a deal similar to the three-years, 30 million Furcal got before the 2009 season.
If Rollins, 32, remains with the Phillies beyond the 2011 season, he could go down as one of the most decorated players in franchise history. Already he ranks in the top 5 in runs, plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases and games played. In the modern era, only Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn have been on base more times than Rollins.
Better yet, the way manager Charlie Manuel sees it, Rollins isn't close to being finished yet.
I think that his contract -- he wants to show that hes good, Manuel said. I talked to Jimmy and he plans to play another five years or so.
Rollins has enjoyed a slight resurgence this season after struggling through a slump at the plate in 2009 where he batted .250 after struggling through June with a .207 average. In 2010, Rollins was hampered by injuries and appeared in a career-low 88 games and .241 batting average.
Rollins, however, showed up at spring training healthy and fit and aside from a Grade 2 groin strain suffered at the end of August that landed him on the disabled list, Rollins has been one of Manuel's most consistent performers in 2011. No, he's not producing offensive numbers up to his 2007 levels, but he's teamed with Shane Victorino at the top of the lineup to form a formidable power and speed threat. Rollins has 14 homers, 58 RBIs and 28 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot, and also sees 3.81 pitches per plate appearance, which is better than the league average and the third-most on the team.
Hes coming on strong the last couple of months. His offense has picked up, Manuel said. When we get our team at full strength, thats when Jimmy shows up better. Theres more people on base and theres more excitement in the lineup and thats when Jimmy gets up. Jimmy gets motivated by the competition and the people in the lineup. The more excited about the team, the more that gets into Jimmy.
According to the advanced stats on FanGraphs, only Placido Polanco has better plate discipline in terms of making contact than Rollins, and no player regularly swings at fewer pitches. Somewhere Rollins got the reputation as a player no willing to work the count, only the statistics seem to squash this notion.
Rickey Henderson used to swing at first-pitches, too. Jimmy doesnt walk like Rickey, but Jimmy likes to cut when the count is 2-0, 3-1. He likes to get up in the count and look for a good ball to hit, Manuel said. Where he gets into trouble is by chasing the high ball out of the strike zone and swinging long at it and hell be the first guy to tell you that. He can be a little aggressive at times, but thats the big-man syndrome coming out of him.
Jimmy knows about hitting. He knows his swing. When you get right back to it, hes definitely streaky. The year he won MVP and when hes going good, he gets his stroke down and he can hold it for a few months. He gets very consistent with his swing.
More importantly, Rollins is just as dynamic in the field as he's ever been and is an undisputed leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Behind the scenes, many of the veterans take their cues from Rollins as he has settled into his role as the seasoned and wily veteran.
Of the starting shortstops in the major leagues, only Tulowitzki has a better fielding percentage than Rollins with one fewer error. According to the advanced metric UZR, a measure of how well a player performs in the field, Rollins is rated fifth in the National League.
I think Jimmys value is as a package -- as a player, Manuel said.
What happens when guys dont hit is they have to be able to do something to play in the game. They have to field or throw or run and do something other than hit to stay in the game, and thats why its so important to be an everyday player. I think Jimmy carries all the tools. When hes on his game hes a tremendous player, but even if hes struggling with the bat, there are other ways he can beat you.
Still, Rollins says he is playing better this season not only because of improved fitness and health, but instead because of peace of mind. Quite simply, Rollins says he feels good, which keeps him from second-guessing himself.
My confidence is always good, but its a matter of feeling and I feel good. That translates into being more aggressive on the bases, being able to make the plays and feeling better at the plate, Rollins said. When you feel good, you dont think about things -- you just let them happen. You react accordingly to how you feel and when you dont feel good, youre scrambling. Instead of going out there and executing, you think about what could, might possibly go wrong and when youre feeling good you dont think like that. Thats the difference.
Twelve years into his career with the Phillies, Rollins has already solidified his standing as the best shortstop ever to play for the franchise. Meanwhile, a new contract could put him on the short list of the all-time greats in franchise history. There have not been too many players to last as long in Philadelphia as Rollins, with Schmidt leading the way with 18 years of service and if he returns for a 13th season with the Phillies, only Schmidt, Tony Taylor, Robin Roberts, Chris Short, Curt Simmons and Steve Carlton will have served more time as a uniformed player.
The Phillies have 21-year-old Venezuelan Freddy Galvis waiting in the wings at shortstop, but the kid is just wrapping up his first month at Triple A. Galvis likely needs more time to develop.
A second-round draft pick in 1996 from Encinal High in Alameda, Calif., Rollins grew up idolizing Rickey Henderson. However, it would be odd to imagine Rollins playing out his career in the vagabond manner the way Henderson did. Moreover, it would be odd to imagine a future in which the Phillies did not have Rollins playing shortstop.
Will the Phillies will do what they can to avoid such a future?
Well be talking, theres no question about it, Rollins said. Its not like theyre going to just let me walk away scot-free.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimmy Rollins joins Marshall Harris for a half hour special to reflect on his career as a Phillie in the season finale of Phillies Clubhouse this Monday at 7 p.m. on CSN.