Discussion: Jimmy Rollins’ Next Contract

Much has been written about what the Yankees will do with Derek Jeter‘s pending free agency and how much the Yankee captain will earn even though he’s coming off a down year and may not be able to continue for much longer at the shortstop position.  The catch, however, is that nobody expects Jeter to play anywhere but in New York and even if the Yankees overpay him, they can afford it for a franchise icon.

This scenario could replay itself in the 2011-12 offseason, though with more dramatic consequences.  Jimmy Rollins will be a free agent after 2011 and while Rollins is almost as beloved in Philadelphia as Jeter is in the Big Apple, Rollins’ sharper decline may give the Phillies a tough choice to make next winter.

Rollins is coming off an injury-plagued 2010 campaign that saw him only hit .243/.320/.374 in 394 plate appearances.  While this season could be explained by his calf and hamstring problems, Rollins wasn’t much more effective in 2009 (.250/.296/.423) when he led the majors with 725 PAs.  Perhaps as a vote of confidence, the Phils picked up Rollins’ $8.5MM option for 2011 following that disappointing 2009 season, but the club have to be having second thoughts about that move given how Rollins played this season.  One bright side: Rollins had a 12.3 UZR/150 rating in 2010, the second-best mark of his career.

Back in April, in the wake of Ryan Howard‘s massive extension, MLBTR’s Luke Adams looked at how Rollins’ future in Philadelphia might be impacted by Howard’s deal.  Adams concluded that the Phillies would probably extend Rollins, but “If Rollins does receive a multi-year, big-money extension though, the Phillies’ financial flexibility will take yet another hit.”  MLBTR’s Howard Megdal agreed, painting a rather dire picture of Philadelphia’s payroll in 2012 and beyond.

Looking at the situation now, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge‘s contracts almost surely be off the books after 2011; Ibanez is a free agent, Lidge has a $1.5MM buyout option.  Jayson Werth is at best a 50-50 proposition to be re-signed, since the Phillies have Domonic Brown waiting in the wings. 

Added to the equation, however, is Roy Oswalt‘s $16MM team option for 2012.  Though Oswalt will turn 35 in 2012, the right-hander has showed no signs of slowing down.  Given the choice between having Oswalt or a 33-year-old shortstop with a sub-.700 OPS, I think both the Phillies and their fans would prefer to see Oswalt back in the fold over Rollins if a choice had to be made.  Philadelphia isn’t a small market by any means, but they certainly don’t have a Yankee-esque payroll that allows them to throw big money at everyone.

That said, Rollins’ decline in production could actually increase his chances of retiring as a Phillie if it lowers his asking price.  Rather than a big-money contract, Rollins and the team could agree to an incentive-filled deal that stretches over three seasons and pays him around $9MM a year in guaranteed money.  It gives the Phillies some flexibility, Rollins the chance to still earn extra cash if he reaches his incentives and both sides a PR win — the club for doing right by a Phillie hero and Rollins for not seeking an unrealistically big contract if he continues to decline.  

Is $9MM a season still too much for a shortstop that had a lower OPS than Ian Desmond, Marco Scutaro or (by 16 points) even Derek Jeter this season?  Probably, but as Yankees fans can tell you, there’s something to be said for overpaying a home-grown, World Series-winning star.  

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