DALLAS - Ron Roenicke has no trouble envisioning Jimmy Rollins in a Brewers uniform.
"He'd look good," the manager said, a smile spreading across his face.
Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn't want to picture it.
"It's hard to do," the Phillies general manager said.
Whether it gets to that point remains to be seen. Amaro met with agent Dan Lozano yesterday at the Hilton Anatole hotel, where baseball's annual winter meetings are under way. If the face-to-face yielded any progress, Amaro did a good job disguising it. The Phillies have not given up on re-signing their longtime shortstop, but there are no indications that negotiations have progressed past the point of a staring contest. Rollins, who has played 12 seasons with the Phillies, has said publicly that he wants a 5-year deal. And while there do not appear to be many teams in a position to meet that request, at least one club views Rollins as a legitimate target.
The Brewers will have money to spend if, as expected, first baseman Prince Fielder ends up leaving for higher dollars elsewhere. General manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects to meet with Lozano at some point during these meetings. The Brewers got little production out of shortstop last season, when Yuniesky Betancourt hit .252 with a .271 on-base percentage, .381 slugging percentage and 13 home runs. With Fielder on his way out, Melvin and Roenicke will likely have to replace the slugger's production across several positions, and Rollins and Rafael Furcal are the only two remaining free agents who bring any sort of offensive potential to shortstop.
But the Phillies would be in a similar position if they lost Rollins. While they have upgraded the depth on their bench, they clearly would need to find a way to add some offense to the lineup, which would likely mean looking at leftfield or third base. Yesterday, several reports surfaced that the Phillies were showing serious interest in Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Fox Sports reported that the Phillies were evaluating the potential of trading Placido Polanco to accommodate the trade.
"If Jimmy is not back, we have to figure out what we are going to do around that," Amaro said. "We hope that's not the case."
By now, most of you know the background. Rollins is looking for a 5-year deal, and the Phillies rarely go beyond 3. Everything else is up for interpretation. Do the Phillies really view Ramirez as a legitimate option, or are they simply evaluating all options while signaling to Rollins that they are willing to move on? If Ramirez were to perform at his career levels, he would more than fill the offensive void left by Rollins. Last season, the 14-year veteran hit .306 with a .361 on base percentage, .510 slugging percentage and 26 home runs. He is a .284/.342/.500 hitter for his career, and has hit at least 25 home runs in seven of the last eight seasons.
Rollins, meanwhile, carries a career .272/.329/.432 line and has average 17 home runs per 162 games. He hit .268/.338/.399 with 16 home runs last season, rebounding from a rough 2-year stretch in which he hit .248/.304/.406 while battling various lower body injuries.
But offense isn't everything. There is no indication that Ramirez, who will be 34 in June, will cost less than Rollins, who turned 33 last week.
Ramirez has some question marks on defense, where he would be replacing a Gold Glover in Polanco. The Phillies could find a cheap defensive specialist like Alex Gonzalez to replace Rollins and prevent the need to rush 22-year-old Freddy Galvis to the majors. But is parting with a rock-solid left side of the infield worth whatever offense Ramirez would bring?
"Pitching and defense are a very important part of the equation," Amaro said. "I mean, that's why we won 102 games last year."
The Phillies also could look to upgrade in the outfield, where star switch-hitter Carlos Beltran is the top available player. But Amaro said a lot of people in the organization feel like John Mayberry Jr. is ready for an everyday job, and signing a player like Beltran would prevent that.
"Honestly, I don't think there is a rush to do anything," Amaro said.
The emergence of the Brewers as a suitor for Rollins makes things a bit more interesting. Yesterday, Roenicke praised Rollins' attitude and said he thinks the veteran is still a top-of-the-order hitter. But Roenicke doesn't sign the checks, and it is unclear whether the Brewers would offer a better deal than the Phillies.
In the meantime, the Phillies will continue to evaluate all options. A second lefty reliever is still a possibility - the team had some interest in current free agent George Sherrill last offseason. But Amaro said a lot of it depends on what happens with Rollins.
"We're still going about our business," he said. "We've had discussions with a lot of free agents. We've had discussions with a lot of clubs about ways to improve. I think we deserve to give the proper timing to Jimmy's situation. As I've said, our goal is to bring Jimmy back. We'll figure it out."
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