The free agent market has two elite shortstops. One is younger but has injury concerns. The second is going to be 33 at the end of this month and has injury concerns. The older one is the better defender while the younger one has a more potent bat. The younger one has compiled 9.9 fWAR the past three seasons despite the injuries while the older one has compiled a 9.3 fWAR despite some injuries but more playing time the past three seasons. The younger one, Jose Reyes, seems poised to make a lot of money. The older one, Jimmy Rollins, seems poised to be disappointed. What is Jimmy Rollins worth and what would you offer him?
Rollins' defense will make him sorely missed if the Phillies let him walk. With a pitching staff of aces three deep and another on the cusp, it would seem that there is a case in protecting them with one of the premier fielding shortstops in baseball and paying him accordingly. But the Phillies face a similarly hard choice as the Yankees in that Rollins is in many respects the face of the Phillies and has come to the stage of his career where you have to be concerned over the length of his deal. Rollins is going to want five or six years. From his current age, three years would seem to be the intelligent offer length.
And Rollins has a point in wanting to make some money at this stage of his career. He's been vastly underpaid for his entire career. His last five years at $8.0 to $8.5 million has been one of the best deals for a team in baseball. It would seem from that perspective that Rollins would have no interest in giving the Phillies a home town discount. And he would have a case. And yet, offering him a substantial raise after three troubling seasons would seem to dampen his team's enthusiasm to go longer than three years. Perhaps they could be creative and offer him three guaranteed years and two option years. But again, it seems hard to imagine Rollins accepting that kind of offer.
Further complicating the Phillies' position is the loss of Ryan Howard who is looking at a huge loss of playing time to at least the early part of 2012 if not more due to his Achilles tendon injury. Jayson Werth was missed in the line up even if he faltered in Washington. The Phillies struggled on offense to some degree in 2011 and losing Rollins to any other shortstop not named Jose Reyes would be a further erosion of that offense. Despite a dreadful 2009 and an injury riddled 2010, Rollins did bounce back some on offense this past season, though he isn't the hitter he was in his younger days. Rollins was a force on offense from 2006 to 2008 but after six seasons in a row of slugging .420 or higher, Rollins has come in at .374 and .399 the last two seasons with his ISO dipping to .131 the last two seasons after a career of averaging .160.
As attractive a place as Philadelphia is to hit, the home/road splits are decent for Jimmy Rollins, so there are no real worries that his home park would add many bennies to his current value. We can take that out of the equation. What is more worrisome is that after five seasons of double-digit triples and two others that were close, Rollins only hit two of them last year and only 22 doubles in 631 plate appearances. But at least his home run to fly ball ratio remains stable as does his walk percentage and strikeout percentage. If Rollins were to have a few seasons in a row where his legs rebound to good condition, his offense could again improve to somewhat of his former levels. He is still an elite base stealer. But again, after his last three years, which is the real Jimmy Rollins, the post 2008 Rollins or the pre-2008 Rollins? Logic would seem to dictate that it's the former and not the latter.
So what would you offer him? This observer thinks that three years at $40 would be fair market value with a couple of mutual options. Anything higher than that or a longer guaranteed period would be stretching the boundaries of good sense. But good sense hasn't ruled free agent signings in quite a while. Here is a WAR chart comparing Rollins to Jeter and Reyes. The Fangraphs chart gives you a visual (click on the chart to see it better. Rollins is the blue line, Reyes is the green) of what GMs are dealing with. It's a tough one, isn't it?