Star Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, still only 32 and still at the top of his defensive game, presents a very nice alternative to top free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, who's a similar player to Rollins, but more brittle and very likely much more expensive. Rollins' coming free agency hasn't received the acclaim that Reyes' has, but then Rollins isn't in New York and he's with a team that doesn't seem quite as dependent on him.
Rollins' childhood Bay Area buddy C.C. Sabathia speculated that Rollins may wind up in San Francisco, and that makes some sense since the Giants need a shortstop and haven't shied away from players over 30. Perhaps more credence should be given to this prediction, as Rollins was correct about his friend Sabathia's free-agent landing spot three winters ago, predicting the Yankees in early October of 2008 when word was going around that Sabathia would do anything to avoid New York. But deep-pocketed, spend-to-win Philly, which likes Rollins and doesn't like letting stars it likes go, probably remains the favorite to keep him.
Rollins isn't tipping his hand about possible landing spots. But he's clear on two things: One is that he is looking forward to his free agency, and the other is that he seeks a five-year deal.
"Five would be great. Five would be the number,'' Rollins said. "I don't think I want six or seven. You start thinking about 39 (years old). Do I want to play at 39?''
The Phillies are typically close-mouthed about their plans, but one league source said he envisioned them trying to keep a Rollins deal to three years. The Phillies are said to like Rollins very much, are mostly understanding about Rollins' own program and seem not to mind a slight overpay for their own stars. One baseball executive saw Rollins getting $56 million for four years, and another said he could see Rollins staying with the Phillies for three years and at "at least'' $12 million a year.
"Right now there is no better place to play baseball, especially in the National League,'' Rollins said of the Phillies the other day. "With that being said, I've been here since I am 17. I never thought of going anywhere else. But am I afraid to leave? Not at all. Nothing's permanent. I don't get caught up to the point where it's either this or nothing.''
Rollins said he has no idea what the Phillies are thinking yet, but sees the years being the key issue. "That's what it's all about,'' he said. "Teams don't want to give you years. They want to keep the uncertainty to a minimum.''
Rollins (@JimmyRollins11) has helped himself by maintaining superior defense and putting up his typical offensive numbers at age 32. They're no better or worse than usual. In 2007 Rollins won the National League MVP. He's isn't that player anymore. But his year this year is very close to his career norm. He's hitting .271 with a .340 on-base percentage and .403 slugging percentage (his career averages are .272, .329 and .433).
Reyes, just 28, is a more dynamic offensive player at this point and could crack the $100 million mark, or even approach the $142 million Carl Crawford got from the Red Sox last offseason. Rollins won't be in that echelon. But that doesn't mean he will be overlooked. He provides positives even Reyes does not. He is a great team leader (he was the first one to correctly point out that the Phillies were "the team to beat'' four years ago, before they seemed to be that). He is one of the biggest winners in the game. And while he's suffered an assortment of injuries over the years, his haven't been as pervasive as Reyes' pains. Free agency should treat him well.
"It's gonna happen. I think every player, if the opportunity comes, looks forward to it. You look forward to saying this is where I want to be,'' Rollins said. "And everyone wants to know what the market would demand. I think it's exciting.''
• Terry Francona's two-year, option for $8-million-plus seemed to be a foregone conclusion to be picked up at year's end, but the Red Sox collapse, which would be historic if they don't beat the Rays and make the playoffs, may put that into question. Sources indicate some Red Sox higher-ups question whether Francona is "aggressive enough'' with his players. Francona has gotten great mileage over the years from being lenient and doing whatever it takes to keep players happy, but there's a question whether the team is together this year. Some suggest that starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey have formed a clique that may sometimes include catcher Jason Varitek but few others. There is also some upset over Beckett declining to pitch to anyone but Varitek. The other issue, pointed out by excellent Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo, is that a few players don't appear to be in top shape. It still seems improbable that Francona -- twice a winner in World Series sweeps after the Red Sox had not won since 1918 -- would not be brought back. But this has been one strange season for Boston, which is 7-19 in September and could become the first team to blow a 10-game wild card lead.
• If Francona leaves Boston, he'd land a job elsewhere immediately of course. There are some who wonder whether he could become a candidate with the White Sox, who employed him as their Double-A Birmingham manager when a fellow named Michael Jordan played there. Tony La Russa, a great friend of White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, remains the most logical choice for the ChiSox. The one issue there is that La Russa presumably would want to bring longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan with him, and pitching coach Don Cooper, who is also excellent, was just given a contract extension to stay. Cooper even became the interim manager for the final two games after the White Sox fired longtime coach Joey Cora by text, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Cora is expected to go with Ozzie Guillen to coach for Guillen in Miami. Two younger candidates to manage the White Sox could be Sandy Alomar Jr. and Joe McEwing, a La Russa disciple who has managed very well in the minors for the White Sox organization.
• On the positive side of the ledger for the Red Sox is the story of Ryan Lavarnway, the Yale philosophy graduate who hit his first two career home runs to give the Red Sox a must-win Tuesday night over the Orioles and keep them tied with Tampa Bay. Lavarnway understandably is a favorite of the Red Sox front office. GM Theo Epstein is also a Yale man.
Alfredo Aceves has also been a bright spot for Boston. Aceves signed for $600,000 due to a back injury and a winter motorbike accident but he has been key in keeping the bullpen together as Daniel Bard has fallen apart. "If I wake up tomorrow I am good to go,'' Aceves told @bradfo of WEEI.
• Guillen was the guy the Marlins wanted all along, as Marlins people remembered him fondly from when he was third base coach of the 2003 World Series champs. Reportedly he's getting a four-year contract from the Marlins. But it's going to be interesting to see how long he can coexist with Marlins people who couldn't get along with Fredi Gonzalez or Joe Girardi. Guillen has to be thrilled to be in South Florida. He is a resident of Golden Beach, which isn't far from the old ballpark.
• It wouldn't shock me a bit if Buck Showalter accepted a job as Orioles GM or president. He has become very close with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, and Showalter showed interest in the GM job as far back as his Texas days (not to mention doing a bit of everything in Arizona).
• The Cardinals are 17-8 in September while the Braves are 9-17, points out @dgoold, leading to the tie heading into game 162 tonight.
• The Diamondbacks latest miracle was a six-run rally in the bottom of the 10th, capped by a walkoff slam by Ryan Roberts to beat the Dodgers, 7-6. While going around the bases Roberts impersonated the fist pump his manager, Kirk Gibson, used after hitting his famous home run in the 1988 World Series. That made an MLB-high 48 comeback wins for Arizona, which is desperately trying to beat Milwaukee to get home field for the NLDS (and also to avoid favored Philly in round one). "Big game for us tomorrow,'' Gibson said.
• Credit to the Dodgers, manager Don Mattingly, GM Ned Colletti and all of them for finishing strong. Out of nowhere, they will finish over .500.
• Scoop from former great Dwight Gooden? Writing at @DocGooden16, he tweeted, "Look for Albert Pujols to follow Ozzie Guillen to Florida if the Cardinals don't resign him.'' Hmmm.
• Keep hearing here that the Blue Jays will be big players this winter.
• Good for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who has now added to the front office Pete Vuckovich and Joe McIlvaine, two baseball lifers over 55.
• Mets GM Sandy Alderson did the right thing picking up manager Terry Collins' 2013 option a year early, preventing Collins from being a lame-duck manager next year. Collins' exact salary isn't known but isn't believed to be especially high considering he hadn't managed since 1999 before Alderson/PaulDePodesta hired him to lead the Mets. It was disappointing to see the Mets let go veteran exec Wayne Krivsky and top scout Bryan Lambe, two good men. Both were holdovers from the Omar Minaya regime and should find jobs quickly. Like most folks, Alderson wants "his guys.'' A clue they weren't his guys came during Carlos Beltran talks when they were both sent to scout Texas, which was very interested in the All-Star outfielder but had zero chance since Beltran, who had a no-trade, told the Mets he wanted to go to Philadelphia or San Francisco.
• Meanwhile, the Pirates appear to be cutting back, excising longtime scouts Larry Corrigan and Keith Champion after seeing Vuckovich go. This is a worrisome duo to be let go, as they are two guys known to be willing to speak their mind. Wonder how this helps the Pirates, whose progress isn't what it seemed to be earlier.
• Bartolo Colon's deep slide has brought A.J. Burnett back into the Yankees playoff rotation picture. The third spot will go to Freddy Garcia behind CC Sabathia and rookie Ivan Nova, but Burnett may be No. 4 now.
• Koyie Hill of the Cubs is 0 for 34 with runners in scoring position, reports @PW Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
• One scout said he believed the Mets should trade David Wright and use Daniel Murphy at third base. But someone with ties the Mets said he doubts that will happen, and see Wright staying and Murphy likely being used in a super utility role.
• The AL MVP race is the most interesting one in years, with any of Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander), Jacoby Ellsbury (@JacobyEllsbury), Curtis Granderson (@cgrand24), Robinson Cano or Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19)seeming to have a chance to win. Adrian Gonzalez may just be a tick below now, though he's had a terrific first year in Boston. The guess here would be that Verlander wins, though if the Red Sox take the wild card, maybe it's Ellsbury.
• The National League race looks like it'll come down to Ryan Braun or Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp), who've both had terrific years. While Kemp's overall numbers look ever so slightly better, Braun has a higher OPS and has had huge hits for the NL Central champion Brewers. So he's the pick here. Prince Fielder, the Brewers team leader, is also in the mix but probably running third.
• Friends of Bud Selig say they actually believe he will retire following 2012, as he has long suggested. Selig has lined up professorships at Marquette University and his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin.