Rollins Returns to Philadelphia

In perhaps the least shocking move of the offseason, the Phillies re-signed Jimmy Rollins over the weekend. While the possibility always existed that he would sign elsewhere, the availability of several shortstop stopgaps drastically reduced his number of suitors. The remaining teams with shortstop vacancies lacked either the payroll flexibility to pay him eight figures per year or the desire to sign a player like him while not being in a position of contention.

For a week or two, Rollins and the Phillies had been negotiating with each other. No other parties were involved. The Brewers were linked to him at one point, but their three-year, $36 million deal with Aramis Ramirez closed that window. The Tigers popped up as potential suitors, but the rumor was baseless.

In the end, the Rollins-Phillies negotiations mirrored those of Derek Jeter and the Yankees last season. Each side knew the eventual outcome, and talks were more centered on how they could compromise while still showing respect to one another, both publicly and privately. The result was a three-year deal worth $33 million, with a vesting fourth-year option valued at another $11 million. The option is a very easy vest, however, so barring extreme health woes, he will play in Philly for four more years.

Realistically, this was the best possible deal the Phillies could sign.

If they weren’t going to offer a max-type deal to Jose Reyes, and didn’t want to deplete the farm system to acquire an Asdrubal Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez or Stephen Drew via trade, then Rollins on a relatively team-friendly deal was a better solution than signing Clint Barmes, Rafael Furcal or Alex Gonzalez. It was also better than simply using prospect Freddy Galvis.

The key to this move, from the Phillies side, is that Ruben Amaro let the market develop before extending the formal offer Rollins eventually accepted. With Jonathan Papelbon, and Raul Ibanez three years earlier, Amaro identified his guy and pounced early in the offseason, overpaying before the market set itself.

Years earlier, players like Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu signed very team-friendly contracts. Milton Bradley also signed for less than Ibanez, and while that deal didn’t work out, it made far more sense on the surface.

This offseason, he signed Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract, where no other closer has even passed $30 million. With Rollins, however, Amaro identified his target and took a more laid-back approach that ultimately benefited the Phillies. When someone else emerged as a legitimate threat, he amped up negotiations.

Until then, he watched as stopgap after stopgap signed with shortstop-vacant clubs, and as the number of potential destinations continued to shrink. How a front office can act so diligently in one area and not exercise that level of care and caution elsewhere is a story for another day, but the end result of that patience was three guaranteed years at a lower average annual value than practically anyone expected.

Rollins entered the offseason by saying he wouldn’t take a hometown discount to remain with the Phillies, and that he sought five guaranteed years. In an interview with Jim Salisbury shortly after the signing became known, Rollins was candid as usual. He explicitly mentioned that his quest for a five-year deal was a negotiating ploy. Everyone knew that, but it’s still interesting to hear the athlete himself admit that fact.

He went onto say he would have loved five years, but four years was more than acceptable; that even though this is a three-year deal, the vesting option is very attainable, so it’s effectively a four-year deal. He also alluded to the idea that the Brewers offered more guaranteed years and dollars, but that it wasn’t enough above the Phillies offer to leave his legacy behind and start anew elsewhere.

So, the $11 million per year question is whether this is, overall, a good deal. Sure, it’s team-friendly relative to initial offseason expectations, but will the Phillies experience a return on their investment, or is this more of a break-even signing?

Rollins has averaged over 3 WAR from 2009-11, and that includes the 2009-10 seasons in which he was hurt. He played just 88 games in 2010, and had lingering injuries the year before that sapped some of his offensive ability. Last season marked a return to form of sorts, as he hit .268/.338/.399 in a down offensive league. With his great fielding and baserunning, a .330ish wOBA put him right back in the 4-WAR range. While expectations should certainly be tempered moving forward — 2012 is his age-33 season, after all — it’s tough to imagine Rollins producing fewer than 10 WAR over the next four years. Even when he played half of a season with below average offensive numbers he still managed 2.5 WAR, and his injuries largely looked behind him last year.

For the deal to work out, all he has to do is tally those 10 WAR over the likely four years of the contract. Our fan projections have him at 3.9 WAR next year, but even if we lop that down to 3.5 and project a decline on the order of a half-win per season, he would produce 11 WAR over the next four seasons.

As long as Rollins sustains some semblance of his offense from last year, continues to perform well in the field and on the bases, and stays on the field, this deal will work out for the Phillies. But even if they take a slight “loss” on the deal or break-even, that’s better than the added risk of going with Galvis or signing a stopgap with less upside.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


37 Responses to “Rollins Returns to Philadelphia”

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  1. Chris R says:

    This had to happen, so congratulations to Ruben Jr. for making it happen affordably. I’d like to think someone in the ownership group will point out the contrast in value obtained from his patient approach to Jimmy, and unnecessary preemptive signings like Ibanez, Howard and Papelbon. Not holding breath. I’ve gone from dismay at the organization’s cheapness in the 90s to (slightly less) dismay at their wastefulness in the ’00s and ’10.

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  2. Yirmiyahu says:

    Rollins is both better and younger than Jeter, yet Jeter’s agent is better than Rollins’ by $18M.

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    • TK says:

      Rollins’ agent did a fine job. Jeter’s just hit the jackpot in that he knew there was a team that would massively overpay. Jeter could have gotten that deal without representation.

      I still think the Phillies are destined to fall and fall hard – it’s just a matter of time. Still, you can’t blame them for trying to put the best team on the field now, and that necessitates a longterm deal. And it isn’t as if going in another direction would all of the sudden prevent all of their other players from getting old and declining.

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      • Nik says:

        The Phillies will fall hard meme is getting a little old.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Nik: so are the Phillies.

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      • TK says:

        The Phillies have $104 million dollars obliged to six guys in 2013 who will be 32, 33, 34, 34, 34, 36. In addition, they will either have to pay up big or lose several of their other players that right now are the best values they have (Victorino, Hamels and Ruiz).

        Even assuming Worley and Brown are the real deal, there are still holes at 3B, C, SP, and CF. Unless they are planning to have a Yankees-sized payroll, these 4 spots will have to be filled from within.

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      • Nik says:

        EVERY team has holes every year that need to be filled. What makes the Phillies situation any different?

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      • TK says:

        I guess it won’t be different if they continue to expand their payroll, but most teams don’t have $100 million plus tied up in 6 players 2 seasons prior. As far as I know, the only teams that have that are the Yankees and Red Sox. The Phillies payroll has increased dramatically the last 4 years, going up by over $20 every single year, including a $27 jump last year from $138 million to $165 million. If they stay at or above $165, they might be able to compete even if those players decline as expected, but if payroll comes down, there will be a lot of spots to fill with stopgaps and marginal prospects (unless the Phillies prospects really turn it on – they were quite decimated by several trades made the last 3 years – Oswalt, Lee, Pence, etc.).

        I know you’re the prototypical Phillies homer and you think with Ryan Howard you can’t lose, but dismissing cold hard reality out of hand isn’t going to provide Philly with the fountain of youth.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        TK, why would the Phillies payroll decline? So long as they’re winning, I’d expect them to spend in the same ballpark as the Red Sox and Angels– i.e., right around the luxury tax threshold.

        The following scenario is much more likely: their payroll levels off, they continue to be a very good team for a couple years, the veterans get old, they try to spend their way out of the situation but fail, they have a couple of losing seasons, and then they cut payroll as part of a rebuilding cycle.

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      • TK says:

        There have been several reports in the past about the Phillies not adding payroll, but they were basically given special permission for certain circumstances. Maybe that will become the norm, but if their attendance drops off (which is basically the only direction it can go at this point), and if they aren’t as successful as the past few years (again, just about the only direction they can go), I’d guess that their payroll dips a bit. Most teams don’t just continuously raise their payroll and most teams eventually cut it a little, even if they keep winning.

        We’ll see what happens.

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      • Andrew DeLaney says:

        Isn’t it just a matter of time before any team “falls hard”?

        Assuming you meant something other than a tautology (which is easier to argue against), I’ll make a couple of other points. It’s probable that the Phillies exchanged some 2014-2015 wins for wins this year. That’s a smart move for a team that’s winning divisions, and I don’t think you’re saying otherwise. But is it that clear how many wins they’re left with despite trading a few? I obviously see that it’s possible that the timing between this wave of talent and the next wave will not be perfect and they’ll have underperforming players at the end of long contracts. But how is this different than almost any team that’s currently winning right now? They’ll have limited payroll flexibility in 2015 or so, maybe, but you’re really willing to predict with certainty that this possibly limited payroll will prove utterly crippling? That their prospects won’t come through? (By the way, the same scouts who made this into a top five farm system while not paying overslot are still in place, and likely will be advantaged by the new rules since the Phillies never spent a ton in the draft.)

        Basically, it’s very hard to know who the contributors for the 2015-2016 Phillies (or anyone else) will be — and, sure, Howard will likely be overpaid by 20 million dollars by then. But if the Phillies have a 180 million dollar payroll how is that possibly crippling? They have a number of promising prospects in the low minors and they’ll probably have a high payroll so I’d like their odds of having sufficient contributors better than most teams.

        I’d point out that most of the criticisms levied against the Phillies on this board — older team, traded prospects, mill stone contracts — could be, but never are, more accurately levied against Boston. I guess being a FanGraphs approved Smart Team (TM) has its advantages in that regard.

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      • mcneildon says:

        The Phillies television deal expires in 2015. The deal they have now is not very good. I believe it pays them about $25 million a year (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.) When they negotiate the new deal, they should be in line for a very substantial increase. In fact, it would behoove ownership to keep the payroll right around the luxury tax, and have a win-now approach, until they negotiate that deal in order to maintain the boffo TV ratings they get right now.

        Unless they fall off the cliff very soon (like next year,) which doesn’t appear that likely, they will see a major increase in TV revenue in 2015. Additionally, Philadelphia (according to Nielson http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/public%20factsheets/tv/nielsen-2012-local-DMA-TV-penetration.pdf) is the 4th largest media market in the country. It is the largest media market with only one MLB team. So you’ve got not-too-distant TV revenue spike and the fact that Philadelphia is a large market, therefore I don’t see any reason why they won’t be able to continue their large-market spending ways.

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  3. Richard says:

    Good stuff, Eric. But this passage is confused:

    “He played just 88 games in 2010, and had lingering injuries the year before that sapped some of his offensive ability. He still managed to hit 21 home runs and steal 31 bases, but he wasn’t the same player.”

    You appear to have conflated his 2009 & 2010 seasons (he played 88 games in 2010, hit 21 homeruns in 2009, etc.).

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  4. delv says:

    This comment has nothing to do with Milton Bradley, but with your wording:
    “Milton Bradley also signed for less than Ibanez, and while that deal didn’t work out…”

    The deal didn’t “work out” for the GM/owner/Cubs fan-base (not that they paid for it), but it did “work out” well for the player. The wording is indicative of the media-pushed tendency among baseball fans to identify with the owner, as we mentally place ourselves in the shoes of the GM. Ultimately, it’s very biased (in the stricted sense of the term), and we should always be on the look-out for it, IMO.

    Nice article otherwise, and I generally like your stuff, Seidman.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      That’s actually a very interesting thing to point out. Thanks, Delv.

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    • delv says:

      strictest*

      Cool

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    • Richard says:

      Thanks for this comment. We’re in a weird place as fans, especially those of us who think the players ought to be paid, given all the money in the system. We generally are fans of a particular team, and so want that team to spend money wisely. An inevitable conflict.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      While I tend to side with the players over ownership on just about every labor issue, and I enjoy analyzing deals from the player’s perspective as well, this kind of mentality is inevitable. We live in a world where fans root for teams rather than individual players and play GM in fantasy baseball leagues.

      I think this kind of analysis is only problematic when it goes further and the player is actually criticized for accepting too much money. While that kind of criticism is popular on sports talk radio, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Fangraphs article with that attitude.

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  5. Kyle says:

    I heard a rumor that the contract has a fifth year option that vests if he doesn’t pop up the first pitch 15 times this year. I don’t think he’s going to get it.

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    • Phrozen says:

      Man this is a theme that needs to die.

      Over the past two seasons, Rollins has averaged a 15% infield fly to flyball ratio, seen 3.74 pitches per plate appearance, and has swung at the first pitch 19% of the time. Troy Tulowitzki, on the other hand, has averaged an 18% IF/FB, seen 3.63 pitches per PA, and swung first pitch 27% of the time.

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      • DD says:

        It was an exaggeration, but the point remains. Rollins has a consistently low BABIP because of all the weak flyballs he hits. Not necessarily IFFB, but lazy popups nonetheless. Tulo’s BABIP leave Jimmy in the dust, and that says something for Rollins, who has never figured out how to use his substantial speed to get on base at a higher clip because of his uppercut swing.

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      • Nik says:

        Not to mention JRoll has like an .860 lifetime OPS when putting the ball in play on the first pitch.

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      • Phrozen says:

        Yeah, I’m not making the point that Rollins > Tulo. I’m making the point that he is not a first-pitch swinging popup machine as he is often popularly assumed to be.

        And Rollins’ GB/FB ratio over the last two years is 0.71, which is only a little below Tulo’s 0.76. He does not have an extreme tendency to hit popups a la Vern Stephens.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        “Rollins has a consistently low BABIP because of all the weak flyballs he hits.”

        Of course I assume you have data to prove such a bold statement. Especially considering Rollins has a career .289 BABIP, which is below average but hardly describable as ‘low.’ I assume you are also able to explain why Rollin’s season to season BABIP variation is not correlated to IFFB.

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      • DD says:

        Weak flyballs doesn’t always mean IFFB. Look at his BABIPs the last three seasons and tell me he isn’t well below avg. I don’t have access to spray charts but I would venture that you see a slew of medium deep flyouts on his the last 3 years.

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      • DD says:

        Check out this article from 09, when he began the low BABIP run:

        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8983

        He was trading IFFB for OFFB, and his BABIP plummeted.

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      • Phrozen says:

        That article doesn’t explain any of what you’re saying. Do you have any kind of evidence for your claim that Rollins somehow hits a preponderance of 250′ flies?

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  6. Robbie G. says:

    Jimmy Rollins will make $44 mil over the next four years. Ryan Howard, meanwhile, will make $100 mil over that same time span. Take a look at Rollins’ cumulative WAR from 2009-11: 9.3. And here is Howard’s cumulative WAR during that same time period: 7.6. The fact that Rollins is handling this as well as he clearly is speaks to his professionalism, his maturity, and his commitment to this ballclub. Don’t think that this doesn’t piss him off, though. How could it not? Don’t think that the fact that Jonathan Papelbon, a closer who is going to pitch maybe 65-70 regular season innings for the Phillies this season and has produced 6.2 WAR from 2009-11 (and that’s high for any closer over a three-year time period), got more money than he just did doesn’t also piss him off, probably even more.

    A highly underrated if not outright unacknowledged factor in a team’s cohesion and success, particularly a team that has a number of fairly long-tenured players on the roster (and particularly in MLB, where players toil for many years in the minor leagues), is how players respond when teammates get more money than they do, especially when those teammates are demonstratively less valuable. Teams with veteran players who handle this maddening situation with the kind of maturity and professionalism as Rollins is (presumably) handling this situation are obviously in better shape internally than teams with veteran players who get incredibly pissed off and hold grudges.

    Frankly, I’m surprised that there wasn’t an NL suitor out there willing to overpay Rollins in order to a) steal him away from the Phillies (which would have been a devastating blow to this organization) and b) get their hands on Rollins’ “leadership ability” and whatever other intangibles that I don’t really doubt that he possesses in spades. The Washington Senators struck me as a team that would be interested in him for these reasons. Maybe even the Mets. And the Cardinals. And the Brewers. Rollins is apparently perceived as a player who isn’t going to hold up very well over the next 3-4 years. I think he’ll be fine and will easily earn this $44 mil.

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    • Evan says:

      Blah blah, Howard is overpaid. Rollins was signed for the right amount of money for what he’ll likely bring to the table.

      Ruben Amaro basically threw money down the toilet on Howard and to a lesser extent overpaid Papelbon. That doesn’t have to mean all of his signings will be equally bad, or players will walk because they can’t get away with a fortune they aren’t worth.

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    • Nik says:

      JRoll is a class act and a damn fine baseball player. Best SS in Phillies history by far.

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      • haha says:

        Good lord you’re pathetic. He’s a loudmouth POS. And the best SS in Sillies history is saying fuck-all. Can’t wait till all the ancient phillies players fall apart and the fairweather fans go back to booing just the Eagles.

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      • Douchebag Club of America says:

        Welcome aboard, haha. You’ll fit right in.

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      • haha says:

        Awww, you’re adorable. You put so much effort into coming up with a joke within a username. That’s never been done before on this site! How can I thank you?

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      • Phrozen says:

        I can’t imagine it took him much effort at all. You kind of set it up yourself.

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    • lol says:

      I’m sure Rollins is familiar with advanced stats and realizes he is more valuable than Howard. Except not at all. He probably thinks like a huge majority of fans/players and sees Howard’s home runs and RBIs and thinks Howard SHOULD be paid much more than him. You’re giving Rollins way too much credit.

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