Five years ago, Jimmy Rollins was the hero leader of a World Series-winning baseball team. Now, it's apparent the Phillies feel he's more of a problem than an asset.
Rollins was not in the lineup on Tuesday. He was not in the lineup on Wednesday. And, he is not scheduled to play Thursday either. Team officials say he is not injured, nor is he sick. So, what gives?
After Wednesday's 6-5 win over the Orioles, just the team's third victory this spring, manager Ryne Sandberg went out of his way to praise the man who was playing in place of Rollins, Freddy Galvis (quotes per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury).
"Freddy’s a guy that will get playing time at various positions," Sandberg said. "He’s a guy that I like in the lineup. I felt good about what he brings to the table. The biggest thing I like is his energy and his positive influence, his positive influence on everyone around him."
When asked if Rollins brings that same positive influence, Sandberg was both vague and yet crystal clear at the same time.
"No comment," the manager said.
This comes on the heels of a piece written by ESPN's Jayson Stark last week, which delved into the relationship between Rollins' one-time manager and now assistant head coach Larry Bowa. In that piece, Bowa said...
"I’ve said this from the beginning. Jimmy’s a red-light player," Bowa said. "He loves when the game’s on the line. He wants to be up there. He wants to make a play. But it’s not a perfect world here. When you’re 18 games out or 20 games out, you’ve still got to go out there and perform. That’s your job. And as great a career as he’s had, that still disappoints a lot of people when they see him out there, maybe giving 70 percent.
"You can’t be a leader verbally and then go out and not run out balls. You can’t do that. I don’t care if you’re 0-for-16 or 14-for-16. ... People watch him. Cody Asche watches him run. And he watches Chase Utley run. Now, this is my own opinion, but I think the difference between those two guys is, Chase Utley does it every single at-bat. And I want Jimmy to do that."
To be fair, Bowa did go on to praise Jimmy, comparing him to Rollins' contemporary and one of the greatest shortstops of all-time...
"He’s a special player," Bowa said. "I mean, you look at his numbers. I know [Derek] Jeter won a lot of World Series, but you look at this guy’s numbers [next to] Jeter’s, they’re pretty comparable. If Jimmy guy plays two or three more years, you’ve got to consider him for the Hall of Fame, I think."
So, just what the heck is going on here? Is there some kind of deliberate smear campaign being conducted against Rollins? What is the motivation behind all these recent negative public comments against him? Because Sandberg didn't say anything more than "no comment" on Wednesday, we're left to guess.
So, here are mine.
1. This is a simple baseball decision. Rollins is coming off a season in which he had a career worst .667 OPS and is due to make $11 million this year, with a vesting option for $11 million in 2015 that will trigger if J-Roll reaches 434 plate appearances this season. He will certainly hit that mark if he stays healthy and plays every day. Rollins also has full no-trade rights as a 10-5 player and has said he will not agree to be traded from the Phillies until he's reached certain personal milestones, such as becoming the team's all-time hit king.
It's possible the Phils are doing all this in an effort to either annoy Rollins to the point that he will agree to a trade once he clears those milestones, or to prevent him from reaching the 434 PAs that would trigger the $11 million option for '15.
2. Ryne Sandberg is trying to prove he's a tough guy. Under Charlie Manuel, the players were freer to do their own thing. Manuel trusted his veterans to do what was necessary to be ready for games. However, Rollins used to tick Manuel off when he would fail to run out a ground ball or pop up from time to time. In fact, Manuel himself had some harsh words for Rollins back in 2012, too.
"What I liked is the fact we got what I call leadership play from Rollins," Manuel said after a Phils win in May of '12. "He had a good mindset [Tuesday]; he was having fun in the game. He put a lot in to helping us win the game. At the plate, how he went about it in the field, in the dugout. He was having fun playing."
Later in the same story, when asked why Rollins can’t provide that kind of energy every night, Manuel said, "He might have to count his money every now and then."
So, not even Manuel was immune from criticizing Rollins' lack of "energy." Still, criticism of Rollins never seemed quite so coordinated before. You had Sandberg's closest confidant Bowa going out of his way to criticize Rollins to ESPN and then, just a few days later, Sandberg benching him and opaquely saying Jimmy isn't a positive influence in the clubhouse.
Sometimes, when a manager is trying to make his bones and show it's his way or the highway, he'll pick out a player or two to make an example of. Perhaps that is what is happening here.
3. Rollins really is a bad influence and is undermining his coaching staff. Forget about the J-Stroll nonsense. I used to get upset about Rollins' lack of hustle on the field, but I've come to understand that, as a human being, sometimes a player will get frustrated when they pop up and forget to run hard to first base. It happens, and when it does, the manager has a right to address it. But that doesn't mean the player is "lazy" and is "dogging it."
What I'm talking about is something else. Has he ignored requests and/or instructions from coaches? Has he been chronically late? Has he had a bad attitude? Has he been a poor influence on the younger players? Has he been shirking his responsibilities? Has he been disrespectful to Sandberg and Bowa? What is going on?
It's understandable why Sandberg has been reluctant to say much more than he has already. Usually, teams like to keep these kinds of things in-house. But people have been whispering things about Rollins and his approach to the game for years now, without ever managing to go on the record with specific examples of things Rollins has done.
Perhaps it was this quote from a few days ago that angered the coaching staff enough to ground him for a few days (quotes via Ryan Lawrence, Philadelphia Daily News)...
"It's March 10 and it's also spring-training atmosphere, some guys get two at-bats, three at-bats and [they're] out [of the game]," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Sprinkled with days off in there, it's more of a choppy schedule for the guys. [We're] still seeing [other players], giving everybody a couple of at-bats. Maybe it's hard for guys to get into a groove, get into a rhythm."
It is only March 10, but . . .
"There is no 'but,' " Rollins said. "Who cares?"
It's also been raised on Twitter that, back on March 4, as Rollins was scratched from the lineup due to "flu-like symptoms," he posted pictures of himself fishing that same day on Istagram. (h/t to @utleys_thumb)
Now, to be clear, I am not accusing Rollins of lying to team officials. It's entirely possible the picture Rollins sent out was from a fishing trip from another day and he just happened to post it the same day he was out of the lineup. It's entirely possible the team gave him a day off to go fishing and simply told the press he had the same flu bug that was going around camp.
It's also true that, just because you have the flu doesn't mean you spend the rest of your day locked inside your house, although going fishing might send a very bad message to your employers.
But in the interest of trying to figure what is going on here, I thought it was something to at least mention.
If there is something more going on behind the scenes, the Phillies should be open and upfront about it publicly. Of course, this would probably never happen. But all this smear campaign is doing is further eroding public support for a player that should forever be considered a hero for helping lead a team to one of the two world championships the franchise has ever won.
4. There is simply a generation gap between Rollins and his coaching staff. There is always the battle between "old school" and "new school," as our own David Cohen pointed out earlier this week. Maybe Sandberg and Bowa believe in an antiquated way to play the game "the right way" that Rollins simply hasn't bought into, and this is the coaching staff's efforts to get him to do that.
Now, all that being said, Rollins responded to the controversy on Thursday morning...
Jimmy Rollins said he is unaware of any issue with Ryne Sandberg. Said manager has not spoken to him in three days.— Matt Gelb (@magelb) March 13, 2014
"Obviously he’s upset about something," Rollins said. Rollins has no problems with benching.— Matt Gelb (@magelb) March 13, 2014
Jimmy: "You can't turn oranges into apples. You can't make these games what they aren't."— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) March 13, 2014
Whatever the reasons, Jimmy Rollins is clearly in Ryne Sandberg's doghouse. And it would be really helpful if the Phillies would give us some idea as to why.
Hopefully, things can be smoothed out with the greatest shortstop in franchise history.