From the beginning, there was little doubt the Phillies and Jimmy Rollins wanted to continue their 15-year marriage. In this city's transformation from National League also-ran to baseball power, there was one constant: Rollins.
And he will continue to man shortstop for the only team he has ever known.
The Phillies agreed Saturday to a three-year, $33 million deal with Rollins, according to a baseball source. The contract, according to multiple reports, includes an $11 million vesting option for a fourth year. So long as Rollins stays healthy in 2014, he's likely to attain that fourth year. The team would not confirm an agreement.
This day was long assumed even before the market for shortstops dwindled to only Rollins. He is the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia, active in the community, and still one of the more productive shortstops in the league.
But Rollins' pride was tested this fall.
Ultimately, the contract is a concession for Rollins, who declared days after the season ended abruptly that he wanted a five-year contract. Still, the 33-year-old shortstop admitted he wanted to remain in Philadelphia.
"I've been here since 1996. That's a long time in this organization," Rollins said then. "It's the only one I've known. I've never thought about having to go anywhere else."
And really, there was nowhere else for Rollins to go. The Phillies were content to idle for much of the winter because Rollins was their priority, and, with an advantage in negotiations, waiting was just fine. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. remained steadfast in guaranteeing no more than three years to a player who missed 94 games in the previous two seasons with various lower-body injuries.
The contract will keep Rollins a Phillie through age 36, if the fourth year vests. If he plays all four seasons, only Mike Schmidt will have spent more time in a Phillies uniform. He is 368 hits and 1,494 at-bats shy of Schmidt's franchise records and 135 stolen bases short of "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's 508 from 1890 to 1895.
"Gotta deal with me for 3 (4) more years," Rollins tweeted Saturday afternoon.
Rollins offers familiarity at the top of Charlie Manuel's lineup. His .743 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2011 ranked 11th among all major-league shortstops, and his defense remains above average. Of course, Rollins' production has waned since the MVP season of 2007, but faced with using 22-year-old Freddy Galvis or a stopgap veteran to replace him, the Phillies viewed Rollins as the best choice for 2012 and beyond.
Galvis, slick-fielding but saddled with questions about his bat, can now spend a full season in triple A and becomes a possible trade chip or future utility infielder. He could also be moved to third or second base. Placido Polanco could be a free agent after 2012 (his contract includes a mutual option for 2013), and Chase Utley's contract expires after the 2013 season.
Amaro said last week that should Rollins re-sign, he would likely be the final offensive addition of the offseason. The Phillies have guaranteed contracts with 16 players for 2012, and four others are eligible for arbitration. The payroll is at $135 million, but the arbitration-eligible players - Cole Hamels, Hunter Pence, Kyle Kendrick, and Wilson Valdez - could total about $30 million.
Thus, barring any surprise moves, the 2012 payroll could be less than 2011's $175 million. That creates flexibility for a July trade addition. In the immediate future, Amaro can turn his attention to a contract extension for Hamels, who is a free agent at season's end.
A divorce with Rollins was never a probability. Milwaukee was said to have made an offer, but the Brewers signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez more than a week ago. San Francisco and Atlanta plan to start rookies at shortstop. St. Louis was consumed with its failed quest to re-sign slugger Albert Pujols and eventually settled for bringing back Rafael Furcal at shortstop.
Even then, Amaro was careful to be respectful of a player with a substantial legacy in Philadelphia while the team maintained its desire for a shorter term.
"Jimmy has every right to feel prideful about what he's done in his career," Amaro said during the winter meetings. "I absolutely understand. He feels he has great worth, and he should feel that way. It's a matter of us getting to the right place where we think the worth is the same."
That happened Saturday. Finally.