Now, as camp prepares to open, the rotation is set, the bullpen is coming together and there are very viable options to fill the vacancy created when Jayson Werth left for the nation's capital. So, what's going to happen with J-Roll?
Throughout his career, Rollins has been underpaid. He made the "mistake" of signing a five-year, $40 million deal during the 2005 season. Had he held off for a while, he might have gotten a lot more money, especially if he were to be finishing a deal in 2008 when he won the National League MVP honors. This season, Rollins will earn $8.5 million far under where he should be on the earnings pole.
The question facing Rollins is whether he's nearing the end of his career, thanks to failing health and durability, or was 2010 and the multiple injuries that knocked Rollins out of the lineup a fluke? Rollins played in just 88 games last season, with just 350 at-bats; both career lows since his first full season in 2001. In fact, there were career lows scattered all over his stat sheet, including average (.243) and slugging percentage (.374). His fielding percentage (.982) was also off sharply from his past few seasons when he was around the .990 mark, but consistent with his career mark of .983 through his first nine seasons in the league.
At 32, Rollins does figure to be past his prime, but that's not to infer that he can't still be a major part of the Phillies offensive attack. Injuries aside, Rollins works hard to keep himself in shape and is known for his constant all-out effort on the field. Perhaps that's where the most damage will be done; perhaps, Rollins' all-out effort simply won't be what it quite was in the past. Being past his prime, it makes sense that the numbers will start to decline, but that doesn't have to mean the end of the road for J-Roll.
Rollins' future in Philadelphia will also be determined by his future expectations considered against those expectations of the Phillies. Will Rollins look for another relatively long-term deal to end his career with? Or, will he be content to perhaps even go as slowly as year-to-year, basing his next season's stature on his previous season's merits? If it's a long-term deal - say three to five years - that Rollins looks for, he'll have to provide not just on-the-field proof that he deserves it with his play in 2011, but he'll need to convince the Phillies that he'll be able to maintain a high level of play for the following seasons.
The only potential replacement for Rollins in the near future would be 21 year-old Freddy Galvis, who is known for his acrobatic defense, but unfortunately, is also known for his struggles at the plate during his rise through the minor league system. Galvis has just over a full season of experience at the Double-A level and he's hit a combined .229 in his 154 games with the Reading Phillies over the past two seasons. He's hit just .233 in 389 minor league games in his career.
It will be interesting to see where the Phillies place Galvis to start the season. With their rash of minor league signings of middle-infield types over the winter, it figures that Galvis would likely start back at Reading, with a potential promotion to Triple-A at some point during the season.
Another player worth mentioning as a potential Jimmy Rollins replacement is Brian Bocock. Like Galvis, Bocock has long been known for his glove work, but put together an impressive streak of hitting for Triple-A Lehigh Valley late in the 2010 season that may have opened a few eyes. Bocock hit a steady .295 through July and August of last season. If he can show this season that those numbers weren't a fluke, the soon-to-be 26 year-old might start to get more consideration as an everyday player.
The fact is that even if J-Roll puts up numbers like he has in the past, there is no guarantee that he'll be able to sustain those numbers over the long-term. We may simply need to accept that we're going to see a different Jimmy Rollins than we've seen in the past. Of course, the front office folks may decide that a team with some aging parts and spiraling payroll might be better served by an infusion of youth at the shortstop position in 2012.