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.

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