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Winter Meetings Cascade Effect on Philadelphia Experiment

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Dec 5 2011 @ 8:41 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 4 Comments

Believers in giving one for the old ball team may disagree but logic, reason and all manner of pragmatism should permit the pedestrian Phillies fan to believe that Jimmy Rollins may not be back. In fact, it is entirely possible that the likes of Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez, Ross Gload, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have seen their last days in a Phillies uniform.

While the Winter Meetings mark the onset of the wheelings and dealings, the baseball calendar is really a 24/7/365 cycle. For Phillies fans, the offseason began once Ryan Howard crumpled in front of home plate and St. Louis Cardinals players began spilling onto the field at Citizens Bank Park.

This offseason has so far has seen Jonathan Papelbon qualify as the big free agent landing (5 years, $50M), which last year came in the form of Cliff Lee. Previous years have seen trading deadline deals to garner the likes of the aforementioned Lee (2009), Joe Blanton (2008), Roy Oswalt (2010) and of course Hunter Pence (2011). There was a time when the Phillies shocked the world by signing thumping 1B Jim Thome (2003). This year, an elderly but still useful Thome returns to Philadelphia – where he will gladly take a reduced role in the refurbished Phillies clubhouse. Thome, Wigginton and Papelbon are not the only new names on the 2012 Phillies roster but so far they are the most interesting.

Let us consider the cascade effect of Jimmy Rollins’ impending Free Agent World Tour in light of Jose Reyes signing with the Miami Marlins (in addition to Heath Bell). Reyes was arguably the third-best free agent on the open market behind Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Now that Reyes is off the market as are Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll and Jerry Hairston, will Rollins more ardently pursue a free agent contract worth 5 years @ $15 per season?

Using the cascade effect and the gold standard game of musical chairs, what might this do to the free agent market as well as the Phillies roster? If Rollins doesn’t return to Philadelphia, it leaves a gaping void at shortstop. Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez are utility men while prospect Freddy Galvis (hitting .238 with 14 RBIs in 122 at-bats in Venezuelan winter ball) has just barely mastered AA-level pitching and is possibly still two years away from the majors. What now?

Rollins leaves. Aramis Ramirez (.306 BA, 26 HR, 96 RBI) is a free agent third baseman with a slew of RBI and HR in his bat but the Phillies have a third baseman in Placido Polanco (.277, 5 HR, 50 RBI). Rumor at the Winter Meetings is that the Phillies would like to acquire Aramis Ramirez (33 years of age) and plug him in at 3B as well as the fifth spot in the lineup. This same rumor mill is churning out the possibility that the Phillies would shop Polanco (36 years old and limited to 122 games in 2011) and are still seeking a shortstop. Since Rafael Furcal (.238 BA, 28 RBI) doesn’t thrill the mind much more than Buddy Biancalana while retread options include Alex Gonzales (.241 with 15 HR and 56 RBIs last year with Atlanta) an alternative approach may be in order.

Furcal or Gonzales would be clear downgrades from Rollins (who hit .268 with 16 HR and 63 RBI last season with Gold Glove-caliber defense) – as would Biancalana, Steve Jeltz or Ivan DeJesus. Larry Bowa would still be an upgrade over all but Rollins. While Phillies scouts believe Freddy Galvis can play shortstop defensively in the big leagues, Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez still hit better.

Trade Placido Polanco to Miami in exchange for disgruntled – and recently displaced – former Marlins SS Hanley Ramirez.  Perhaps an additional prospect or two would be required to sweeten the deal for Miami (Kyle Kendrick, Scott Podsednik or Freddy Galvis himself) - who appears likely to lose Hanley anyway (the team has asked him to move to third base at age 28 to accommodate Reyes). Hanley Ramirez (.243 B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB) may have some issues but at age 28 his potential is still untapped with a speed-power combination rivaling that of Jimmy Rollins in his prime. Ramirez has averaged .306 BA, 25 HR, 83 RBI & 41 SB over 7 MLB seasons.

Aramis Ramirez will not be a cheap option but the Phillies need production from the third base position – especially with Ryan Howard out until Memorial Day. Ty Wiggington will be a useful infielder subbing for Chase Utley and sharing the platoon at both first base and let field but Ramirez could be the best RBI man at the hot corner since Michael Jack Schmidt (retired 1989). Ruben Amaro & Company wasted no time going after Papelbon while negotiating with Ryan Madson. They also were noodling over the possibility of dealing for Cliff Lee in case the proposed Roy Halladay deal went south in 2009 (which it did and then happened in December) so why not prepare for all possible contingencies?

While some of us were sad to see the names Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton appear on offer sheets instead of Grady Sizemore or Michael Cuddyer, MLB free agency is about striking while the iron is hot. Was Cliff Lee on anyone’s radar when the Yankees and Texas Rangers were squabbling back and forth about realtor fees in Westchester County vs. Crawford, TX?

Perhaps the Phillies are trying to swing another surreptitious deal for the likes of Mark Buerhle or John Danks or even George Sherrill? Maybe Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel will debut in Philadelphia pinstripes next season?

This kind of chain reaction happens a lot during MLB bidding wars. Sacrifice Rollins, trade Polanco and wind up with a left side of the infield manned by Ramirez and Ramirez. Suddenly that lineup looks a lot more balanced and it offers the Phillies an improved overall offense from the past couple years…

CF Victorino

2B Utley

RF Pence

1B Thome/Howard

3B A. Ramirez

LF Mayberry/D.Brown

SS H. Ramirez

C Ruiz

Pitcher

Jimmy Rollins and Albert Pujols have the same agent – that agent they employ to hit the free agent market and find themselves the most lucrative deal. However, a successful business transaction requires both a buyer and a seller and MLB teams are not lining up arounf the block for the services of Rollins. Rollins had been offered a 3-year deal @ $30M ($10M per season) but insisted that he wanted to test the free agent waters and seeking a 5 year deal.

That isn’t going to happen and once Rollins exhausts other options (assuming he has any) it is entirely likely that Jimmy Rollins will re-sign with the Phillies organization. Rollins has been part of the Philadelphia Phillies since he was 17 years old and no one should begrudge a man the right to shop his wares on the open market. Philadelphia fans will gripe about Rollins lack of loyalty or not considering a “hometown discount” but any self-respecting American (even a Philadelphian) would listen to more lucrative offers from prospective new employers – or they would be damn fools for ignoring opportunity.

Once Jimmy Rollins realizes that the market will not afford him the Jose Reyes-esque deal he seeks, look for the Phillies sparkplug to sit down and negotiate rationally with the Philadelphia ballclub. This deal is likely to be some compromise struck between Rollins’ Derek Jeter-inspired grand delusion ($60M over 4 or 5 years) and the Phillies reasonable extension of $30M/3 years. The Phillies will remain stubborn regarding years while Rollins will remain insistent on the financial stability of any contract.

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