Over the weekend, Jimmy Rollins signed a new three-year deal which will keep him in Philadelphia, barring a trade or asteroid strike, through at least the 2014 season, while a vesting option which is said to be easily attainable could tack another year onto the end. The annual salary is $11 million, which is $6 million less than Jose Reyes's deal with the Marlins and approximately $11 million more than what I make, which latter is neither surprising nor terribly unique among us non-ballplayers.
For the two parties most concerned, viz., the Phillies and Rollins himself, the contract is mutually agreeable. Rollins was said to be after a four- or five-year contract and, if reports of the vesting option are true, he essentially got those four years provided he can stave off injury for the balance of the deal. It's a fair bet that he will, too, for his greatest asset — apart from largely illusory attributes like grission, leadership, and the like — may be his health. Rollins has played an average of 147 games per year since 2001, and he has usually been a good offensive player relative to his shortstop-playing peers. He has neither the talent nor the charisma of Reyes, but he also lacks the former Met's apparent predisposition toward crural infirmity.
It's the great dilemma: Do you prefer the wonderful player for less time or the lesser player for more time? It depends on the players and on the talent disparity, of course, and a careful weighing of risks versus rewards.
The Phillies get a decent player who they already know, who the fans apparently like, and who may well retire some day having played every game of his career for the same team, which is exceedingly rare these days and has some celebratory value above whatever Rollins contributes to the team's success. Rollins is not a superstar: he's had just one excellent season, his MVP year of 2007, and he has never had an on-base percentage above .350. He does steal bases, both frequently and with a high rate of success, and I think he wears bandanas, which must have some hidden value I'm not aware of because they certainly look ridiculous.
As a Mets fan, I recoil at the thought of another four years of Rollins's stupid face in that wretched uniform playing for that detestable ball club. He's a good-but-not-great player who has been declared a winner by virtue of his association with a winning team. Does he make his teammates better? Maybe, though it's certainly debatable even as it remains essentially unknowable in practice. Does he make them much better? Almost certainly not, but that doesn't really matter because people who write about him (and root for him, to a lesser extent, or by extension of those who write about him) think he does and so that myth gets repeated ad nauseam until everyone just nods their heads at the slightest mention of it. Rollins is neither the first nor the last player to receive this treatment so I don't mean to make a special case of him, though I bring it up because he's the subject here and because this sort of anecdotal aggrandizement of ballplayers by the media and those within baseball is a thorn in my side of the most irritating sort.
As with most free agent deals, the Phillies are paying Rollins for the next three (or four) years based on how he played over the last few instead of how they might reasonably expect him to play while he's actually under contract (i.e., worse). However, the Phillies are playing through an oft-mentioned but still utterly enviable limited window of opportunity, with most of their best players at or beyond (or, in some cases, well beyond) the onset of age-related functional human decline, and their alternatives to Rollins were either considerably inferior or so horrifying we should avoid mentioning them altogether. The Phillies will have the highest payroll in the National League in 2012, again, but they will also be the most talented team in the league, again. Their ballpark is full and their coffers are likewise, so even though I find Rollins utterly repellant (as if that's any concern of the Phillies) it's hard to quibble with their decision to give him the contract they did.