Rolen Debacle Still Hurts, But How Much?

It's been a little less than two years since the Phillies sent unhappy third baseman Scott Rolen to the St.Louis Cardinals. While feelings on the deal still run deep, it's tough not to take a moment to consider what the Phillies team would look like had Rolen wanted to stay in Philadelphia. Needless to say, things might be different. The question is, what would it mean as far as wins and losses in Philadelphia?

As the Scott Rolen trade stands now, it was a bad one – you might say a very bad one – for the Phillies. Bud Smith, who was a major part of the deal as a highly touted pitching prospect, has been injured and his career may be over. Smith developed more soreness in his surgically repaired left shoulder and when and if he returns is all in doubt.

Like Scott Rolen, Mike Timlin was never happy in Philadelphia and quickly left as a free agent after the 2002 season. Timlin pitched in 72 games with a 3.55 ERA last season and while he's off to a slow start this season, he could still turn out to be a big part of Boston's bullpen.

As it turns out, Placido Polanco has been the biggest part of the Rolen trade and has shown himself to be a great addition to the Phillies. Polanco is hitting .271 this season after hitting .289 with 14 homeruns last season for the Phillies. Besides the numbers, Polanco's attitude and hustle have been a nice addition. Last season, Polanco willingly moved to third base when David Bell went down with an injury. While he's not as comfortable at third as he is at second, Polanco never once complained and always hustled. If – and that's a big "if" – Rolen was a "cancer" in the clubhouse as has been stated by anonymous sources, Polanco has been the complete opposite. He is the kind of player that you don't realize how good he is until he's on your team and you see him play everyday.

As for Rolen, he is putting up nice numbers in St.Louis – "Heaven" as he calls it – and is a major part of the Cardinals team. In Rolen's first full season as a Cardinal, he hit .286 and banged out 28 homeruns. He has been his usual Gold Glove caliber self at third base and reports out of St.Louie are that he is liked and respected in the Cardinals clubhouse. Rolen is also off to a hot start in 2004, hitting .351 with 8 homeruns.

So, where would the Phillies be and how would the team look now had Rolen and the Phillies not run into their dirty and very public little spat?

First, could the Phillies have afforded Rolen and still signed the likes of Jim Thome and Tim Worrell and traded for closer Billy Wagner? The answer is yes, they could have. Would they have taken the same path? That's a little tougher to say. Rolen's money basically went to Bobby Abreu to sign him to a long-term extension.

Abreu would have been a free agent after last season and might have commanded even more money than he got from the Phillies when he signed his extension. It's likely that the Phillies would have still signed Jim Thome and would have made the same off-season moves that they did this past winter, but would have allowed – or have had to allow – Abreu to walk via free agency. That would put Jason Michaels as first in line to play right field. Another scenario that's more likely, is that the Phillies would have re-signed Abreu and not offered arbitration to Kevin Millwood. In that scenario, Ryan Madson would likely be the fifth starter and David Coggin would have a spot in the Phillies bullpen.

One thing is for sure. Placido Polanco wouldn't be here and Chase Utley would have taken over at second base last season. That would mean that now, the Phillies would have Utley playing in his second major league season, instead of being back at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

To try to get a grasp on what difference the "Rolen Situation" might have had on the Phillies, we used a popular baseball simulation game to play out the 2004 season. We put Polanco back on St.Louis, put Rolen on Philadelphia, let David Bell go into cyber oblivion and went with the scenario that had the Phillies not offering arbitration to Kevin Millwood. Just to make it interesting, we also put Millwood on Atlanta.

Just prior to the season, we ran a simulation of the season with the Phillies "real life" roster. The Phils finished 92-70 and won the NL East. In our replay of the season, the Phillies went 95-67 and again won the division. An improvement of just three games. The biggest difference was the Braves, who went 84-78 in the original simulation improved to 94-68 with Millwood. As for the Cardinals, the NL Central in the original simulation, but slipped by five games in the replay and wound up missing the playoffs.

As it turns out, the trade of Scott Rolen might not have had a great impact on the Phillies, even though the trade seems to have been a bad one for our Phils.

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