Jimmy Rollins’ biggest problem: walk no longer backs up the talk

Jimmy Rollins’ biggest problem: walk no longer backs up the talk

“We are the team to beat.” With those six simple words, Jimmy Rollins gave the Philadelphia Phillies the swagger to seize the NL East in 2007, the first in a run of five straight division titles that included a world championship in ‘08. J-Roll was an undisputed leader inside the clubhouse.

Of course, it helped that Rollins went out and had himself a literal MVP season on the diamond in ’07. Those words might fall a little flat in 2014 coming from a 35-year-old shortstop who just posted the least productive season of his Major League career since becoming an everyday player.

Then again, they might not if he was the type of player who did things “the right way.”

A veteran of 14 big-league seasons, Rollins’ experience alone could be a valuable asset to the Phillies, particularly the younger players (there’s one or two I think). As the longest tenured athlete in the city of Philadelphia, he’s been through it all, from collecting championships and accolades to enduring losing and controversies.

Rollins has a history though. The three-time All Star has been benched in the past for his perceived lack of effort and issues with punctuality. He’s not a lead-by-example guy like, say, Chase Utley, who by all accounts is constantly working out and watching film, always striving to maintain an edge.

That’s not Jimmy. It never was, yet he was perfectly capable of leading this team before. Now all of a sudden the Phillies want him to lead or leave, as Buster Olney writes for ESPN.com.

The question is when did he stop being a leader?

One answer would be the moment Ryne Sandberg took over as manager last August. The new skipper instantly employed a more disciplined approach than Charlie Manuel, who at times seemed to act as more of a grandfatherly figure than a boss.

It’s not hard to imagine how Sandberg’s demands would conflict with Rollins’ laid-back attitude. Sure enough, J-Roll already has been benched for three games this spring. Meanwhile, his manager is ranting and raving about backup Freddy Galvis’ “energy” and “positive influence.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt the Phillies have got roughly the same production from Galvis here in the early-goings. Rollins is 2-for-22 with five walks and a home run this spring. Galvis is 4-for-34 with three walks, a triple and a home run.

Would Sandberg have benched Rollins if he was producing at the plate? Possible, but perhaps unlikely.

The bottom line is Rollins stopped being a leader right around the time his offense fell off of a cliff. The truth is he could get away with marching to the beat of his own drum because he was getting the job done where and when it counted, on the field and in clutch situations.

Those days appear to be gone now though, so let’s call this drama what it is. The real issue here has little to do with Rollins’ leadership, work ethic or attitude. This is about Rollins being a shell of the player he once was.

The problem is the Phillies are stuck with No. 11 for the time being. The organization can talk trade all they want, but Rollins has the final say on such matters, and he doesn’t sound inclined to walk. I suppose Sandberg could make the situation so untenable for Jimmy that he gives up, but that doesn’t exactly send a great message, either.

The play here might be to patch things up with Rollins, who is largely guilty of signing the contract the Phillies gave him, and try to survive the season ahead. The idea that he needs to set an example in the clubhouse if he can’t set one in the batter’s box is not who Rollins is. Feuding over it is only a disservice to everybody.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.