LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - What if the Phillies could add a hitter who has a career .282 batting average against lefthanded pitching, a hitter who in 2007 boasted a slugging percentage nearly identical to the .532 Jayson Werth posted in 2010, a hitter who in 2009 notched 21 home runs?
What if that hitter was just 6 months older than Werth, and was harboring hopes of playing another 6 years, and was entering the final year of his contract?
Well, the Phillies could find themselves the recipient of such a player if Jimmy Rollins fulfills the organization's expectations for him during the 2011 season.
Say what you will about the need to find a righthanded bat to offset the loss of Werth, who signed a 7-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals over the weekend. A renaissance by Rollins would go a long way toward filling the void created by the departure of the Phillies' rightfielder and No. 5 hitter.
Problem is, even the club isn't sure what exactly to expect from its longtime shortstop. The player who hit .288 with an .816 OPS and averaged 20 home runs, 76 RBI and 125 runs from 2004-07 would go a long way toward replacing the offensive numbers produced by Werth over the past few seasons. On the other hand, the player who hit .258 with a .737 OPS and averaged 13 home runs, 59 RBI and 75 runs from 2008-10 would leave the Phillies with one less impact bat than they are accustomed to.
"I would say we have expectations of Jimmy that are higher than they have been," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "At the same time, we can't necessarily rely on them because he's a year older. I'm hopeful that he comes in and prepares himself differently, as we talked about. I think he's committed to doing that. My gut feeling is that he's going to be closer to what Jimmy was as an MVP than he has been over the last 2 years. I could be wrong, but that's my gut feeling on it."
Charlie Manuel shares that optimism. The Phillies' manager said yesterday he talked with Rollins several times late in the 2010 season, during which Rollins finished with a .694 OPS, eight home runs, 31 RBI, 48 runs, 41 RBI and a career-low .243 batting average. Rollins, according to Manuel, said he wants to play six more seasons. That goal would not have seemed far-fetched in 2007, when he hit .296 with an .875 OPS, 20 home runs, 94 RBI and 139 runs en route to winning the NL Most Valuable Player award. Last year, though, Rollins was hobbled by injuries, including a calf strain that cost him 2 months and a hamstring that sidelined him for a few weeks.
"We talked about things that he had to do, and I told him how he's got to go about it," Manuel said. "We'll see. Jimmy Rollins is a very talented player. We need him to have a Jimmy Rollins year. That's all."
Those things include a revamped conditioning routine, something he told reporters late in the season he would adopt in the offseason.
"I feel like he realizes how can he improve," Manuel said. "First of all, he can make sure that he's strong, he's in good shape, he did his work, and he's ready to go. He can adopt better work ethics during the season. He knows all that. Then you get back to the point how much does he want to? Can I push him? Yeah, I'll try. At the same time, he's the guy that's doing the playing. I've known him for 6, 7 years, and I know how much he likes to play. I look for him to come back and have a tremendous year for us."
Such a year would be huge, not only for the Phillies, but for Rollins as an individual. His current contract, a 6-year, $46.5 million deal that began in 2006, expires at the end of the season. Prior to last season, the Phillies exercised their $8.5 million club option for the 2011 season despite having no pressure to do so. But Amaro already has said that the club does not plan to negotiate an extension with Rollins until they see how next season plays out.
Still, if this year's free-agent market is any indication, Rollins has an opportunity to play himself into a considerable multiyear deal. Despite his struggles at the plate, he is still one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. And his offensive numbers over the last 3 years are at least comparable to those posted by Juan Uribe, who earlier this offseason signed a 3-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers.
So the Phillies aren't kicking themselves for picking up the option.
"Defense is really important to us as a club," Amaro said. "And frankly, I thought he'd come back and bounce back and have a better year. Obviously, with the injuries and his kind of sporadic offense, that wasn't the case. But I'm glad we picked up the option because I'm much happier having Jimmy than not."
Whether that remains the case a year from now is one of the more interesting subplots of the 2011 season - for both the Phillies as a team and for their longest-tenured player.
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