For the most part, the signing of David Bell and the addition of Placido Polanco as part of the Scott Rolen trade were good moves. Bell has struggled and Polanco missed some time thanks to a Josh Beckett fastball, but the moves were still good. Bud Smith, who also came over in the Rolen deal, appears to be healthy and is pitching at AA Reading. He may be able to help at the major league level before too long if all goes well.
Scott Rolen meanwhile, is putting up nice numbers in St.Louis. Through 41 games, Rolen is hitting .294 with 9 homeruns and 34 RBI. Not spectacular, but certainly, very solid. There were a lot of people – me among them – that thought Rolen would put up even bigger numbers playing closer to his Midwest roots. The Cardinals, like Rolen, have been good, but not spectacular. They made a deal that worked for them, especially since they don't really miss Polanco or Smith and they were able to sign Rolen long-term, which everybody figured they would be able to do.
If you paired Rolen with any basic second baseman – yes, even Marlon Anderson – the Phillies offensive numbers would be ahead of where they are now. Whether Chase Utley would have won the job or Nick Punto or somebody else, as long as they were a better hitter than say, Larry Anderson, the Phillies offense may not be as anemic as it is right now. Even the famed Mario Mendoza would leave the Phillies offense about where it is right now. All our anonymous second baseman would have to do to equal the output of Bell and Polanco would be to hit about .185 with an OBP of .190 and we would be at least where we are now. Offensively, there's not much argument that the Phillies would truly be better off.
Chemistry? Well, it may be more of a health lesson, since Rolen was affectionately referred to as a "cancer" by a nameless, faceless teammate. If that quote was legitimate – and I'm not completely convinced that it was – then we are likely better off without Rolen. There never seemed to be any sign of cancer in the Phillies clubhouse, other than losing. With the way the Phillies played at times, and with Rolen's win at all cost attitude, the pile of losses were a cancerous albatross rotting in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse. In this Phillies clubhouse, with Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood, Rolen would likely be right at home. With Thome being from Peoria and Rolen from Jasper, Indiana, it would be a good-old, down-home kind of clubhouse.
Show me the money? Now, we're talking. Rolen is getting in the neighborhood of $9 million per season with the Cardinals and had turned down $14 million per season from the Phillies. The combination of Bell and Polanco are pulling in about $6 million this season. Basically, Jim Thome got Scott Rolen's contract, with a little extra thrown in to knock the pesky Cleveland Indians out of the picture. Would signing Rolen have meant Jim Thome would still be in Cleveland? No. Thome would have gotten his money and the Phillies would have cut elsewhere. Perhaps, one of the young guns would have had to wait for a big contract extension. Bobby Abreu is getting $8.5 million this season, but his extension might have been the one put on hold. Financially, the deal could have gotten done now, but would have hurt the Phillies down the road. There would have been no chance to add a big-name player at this season's trading deadline and all talk of Curt Schilling's return – either now or in the future – would have died a very quick death. Signing Kevin Millwood long-term would be even tougher than it's going to be now and the Phillies might have even had to pass on the deal with Atlanta.
If the Phillies would have passed on Millwood, there might have been another route. The Phillies might have traded Mike Lieberthal and his $7.25 million contract for this season in favor of Johnny Estrada. At that point, the Phillies would have kept Rolen, but missed out on Millwood and have traded Lieberthal for cheaper players.
No matter what your feelings about Scott Rolen, it's hard to say that the Phillies offense is better off without him. He is a gold glove third baseman, with big power and a guy who plays hit butt off everyday. In the business of baseball though, you can't just look at what could have been on the field. The numbers might have changed the landscape so much that this team would be dramatically different from the one we have right now. Simple comparisons are fine, but digging deeper turns up some ugly artifacts that might have kept the Phillies back in the dark ages of 90 loss seasons for some time to come.