DALLAS - Meet the new shortstop, same as the old shortstop? As the Phillies prepare to wrap up this year's winter meetings at the Hilton Anatole, they appear to be on the verge of reaching an agreement to keep longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins around for at least three more seasons.
While general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. revealed little in the way of progress yesterday, numerous reports suggested the two sides had eclipsed whatever differences separated them earlier this week and were in the later stages of negotiations on a new deal. The fact that Rollins declined arbitration at midnight doesn't change anything.
Early in the day, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Brewers were under the impresson that Rollins' return to Philadelphia was imminent. The Brewers had talked with Rollins' agent and were interested in signing him but have apparently turned their attention elsewhere.
"That's good news, I guess," said a coy Amaro. "I've never heard that before. I don't know why they have that thought process, but I'm glad they do. I hope it's true."
Amaro said he felt "no different" about where things stand with Rollins yesterday than he did on Monday, which began with rumors that the Phillies were seriously exploring other options. There is some doubt as to whether they ever seriously pursued Cubs star Aramis Ramirez, who could have taken over for Placido Polanco at third base and replaced the offense they would miss in Rollins. Yesterday, Fox Sports reported that they were no longer shopping Polanco or pursuing Ramirez.
During his daily briefing with reporters, Amaro gave every impression that he anticipates Polanco starting the season as the club's third baseman.
"I love the guy," Amaro said. "He does exactly what we want him to do in the lineup. He catches the baseball better than anybody. He's a Gold Glove third baseman. He does exactly what we want him to do. Other than the fact that he doesn't have the power numbers that a typical corner guys has, he's a pretty damn good player and I'm happy to have him. All of us, fans, media, sometimes people in the front office, get caught up in what have you done for me lately. Well, the guy wasn't real healthy late in the season last year, and it's pretty clear by the fact that he had to have two surgeries. But if he's healthy, he's an effective player."
But Amaro also said that an agreement with Rollins had yet to be struck. Rollins, 33, has said since September that he is looking for a 5-year contract, and the Phillies have seemed hesitant to move beyond their usual comfort zone of 3 years.
While the Phillies did not have any meetings scheduled with agent Dan Lozano, Amaro admitted that could change.
"We don't have anything scheduled, but we text and call each other pretty often," Amaro said yesterday. "So it may come to pass that we talk later on today."
In the past, the Phillies have taken care of most of their major offseason moves by mid-December, and that seems to be the case now that the ball appears to be nearing the goal line with Rollins. On paper, the club has made little substantial improvement. They signed closer Jonathan Papelbon to a 4-year deal, but will also bid adieu to closer Ryan Madson. Veteran Laynce Nix has similar numbers to the man he is essentially replacing in Raul Ibanez. Backup catcher Brian Schneider is back.
The Phillies believe they have improved their depth with Jim Thome replacing Ross Gload and power-hitting utilityman Ty Wigginton in the fold. But while Amaro admitted he has had trade talks with teams - Fox Sports reported that they have discussed a potential deal for Athletics lefthander Gio Gonzalez, although any talk appears dead - it does not sound as if he anticipates the type of dramatic upgrade that he made in 2010 with the signing of Cliff Lee or 2009 with the trade for Roy Halladay and the signing of Polanco.
The Phillies did win 102 games last season and lost to the eventual World Series champions in a decisive fifth game. They clearly think they have the pieces in place to continue to contend for a title. How productive they are will depend a lot on how John Mayberry Jr. adapts to an every-day role in leftfield, and how healthy their oft-injured veteran core can remain. They have a club option for Polanco next season, meaning they could have an opening at third base. With few internal candidates, Amaro did not rule out the possibility of Rollins sliding to that position at some point if 22-year-old prospect Freddy Galvis develops to a point where he is ready for an every-day role.
But those questions are for the future.
"We view Jimmy as a premier shortstop, so that's a hard thing to think about," Amaro said. "But who knows? Time and circumstance may change what our needs are. I hope we have to have that discussion; it means he's signed a contract with us, and it means Galvis has developed the way we think he can. But that's not something that we think about very often, because we view Jimmy as a premier shortstop."