With Rollins Signed, Phillies Appear Set
The Phillies have re-signed Jimmy Rollins to a three-year extension with a vesting option for a fourth year, reports ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Reports are that the deal is worth around $33 million, making Rollins one of the top-paid shortstops in baseball.
The deal also pretty much finalizes the Phillies off-season.
The Phillies added some depth to their bench, changed closers and brought back Rollins - the heart and soul of the team since 2007. The 33-year-old has seen his offensive numbers decline since 2007, but managed to hit .268 this past season with 16 homers and 30 stolen bases.
Is Rollins the same player who won the 2007 MVP award, boldly claimed the Phillies were the :team to beat" or predicted the Phillies would win 100 games - clearly he is not. However, what he is a necessity, on a team that has one of the best pitching staffs in the history of the game, Rollins defense had to be brought back.
The big question is, where will Rollins hit in the line-up. While he was never a prototypical lead-off man, his speed and swagger at the top-of-the-order gave the Phillies a presence and an identity. When Rollins gets on-base and scores, the Phillies win. Now, at 33 years old, and lingering leg problems, can Rollins still ignite the top-of-the-order or should he be moved to the bottom of the order to add depth to a Phillies line-up that has struggled to score consistently over the past three seasons.
While the everyday line-up doesn't have a lot of changes, there is much more flexibility this season for Charlie Manuel. Adding Ty Wiggington gives the Phillies the ability to rest guys like Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard more frequently. Bringing in Laynce Nix adds a defensive-minded outfielder with some pop who can play all three outfield positions. Jim Thome is a big left-handed bat that the Phillies were lacking last season, who can also DH in inter-league play.
With Ryan Howard missing at least the first month of the season, and probably more, Wiggington figures to be busy at first base. But where will he hit, who will replace Howard and all his run production in the four-spot?
Many think its time to let Shane Victorino lead-off and move Rollins down in the line-up. But with Polanco in clear decline, does Manuel move Poly down in the order and go with Rollins and Victorino in the top-two spots.
The three-hole is another question.
Chase Utley has been there for most of his career, but injuries have hampered his production and all the sudden a guy who looked like he was destine for Cooperstown has many questions surrounding him about if he can ever regain the form that made him a constant threat in the middle-of-the-Phillies-order.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro admitted that the patella tendinitis in Chase Utley's right knee probably will never go away and he's not sure Utley will ever again reach his previously-elite production. Utley wound up with a .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBI over 398 at-bats this season, as his production and number of games played slid for the second straight year. Utley will enter the season at 33 years old, it's certainly fair to question whether his best days are behind him.
Another candidate for the three-hole would be Hunter Pence.
The 28-year old right fielder finished second on the team in home runs after coming over from Houston and will be counted on for more run production with Howard out the first month or two. Pence did hit third in the line-up in the playoffs, but the Phillies still struggled to score but he might be their best option at this point.
Which leads to the next question, who hits fourth.
While Howard takes his fair share of criticism, he still led the team with 33 home runs and 116 RBI. There isn't a player on the roster who can come close to matching those numbers and while Howard is set to begin weight-bearing activities this month on his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon he can't be counted on to be the same player he was until late in the season, if at all.
The best guess is that Utley hits third and Pence hits fourth while Howard is out. A line-up of Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Pence, Wiggington, Mayberry, Polanco and Ruiz seems like it will have to do for most of the early months of the season.
Once Howard come back, depending on how Utley is doing, Howard goes to the four spot, Pence bounces to the five and everyone else down one spot.
The pitching staff looks pretty much the game with Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Worley and Blanton rounding out the rotation. In the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon will close games with Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes sharing the set-up duties. Jose Contreas will be back and should be in the sixth and seventh inning role. Dontrelle Willis was just signed to give the Philies pen another left-hander, he held left-handed hitters to a .127 batting average and .369 OPS. He'll presumably function as a lefty specialist in the Philly 'pen. That leaves two spots left for guys like Kyle Kendrick, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery and J.C. Ramirez to fight over.
Here is my first crack at the 25-man roster:
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley and Joe Blanton
Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Stutes, Jose Contreas, Kyle Kendric, Dontrelle Willis and David Herndon
Ty Wiggington, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Jim Thome, Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez
Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider
John Mayberry Jr., Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Laynce Nix
Last two out
Dom Brown and Phillippe Aumont