If Scott Rolen Is Healthy, Can the Cincinnati Reds Win NL Pennant in 2012?

Cliff EasthamSenior Writer IIJanuary 16, 2012

PITTSBURGH - JULY 20:  Scott Rolen #27 of the Cincinnati Reds throws to first base against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on July 20, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Scott Rolen has had what many people call a borderline career in respect to the Hall of Fame. Can you name a better defensive third baseman in the past 15 years?

Who was that? Adrian Beltre, you say?

No, Beltre has won three Gold Gloves in his 14-year career thus far.

Since 1998, Rolen has won eight of the 14 handed out in the National League. Eric Chavez of Oakland won six in a row from 2001 to 2006, but he is the closest comparison you could make using Gold Gloves as the standard.

As an offensive player Rolen is very dangerous. Over his career using 162-game averages, he has hit 26 HR and driven in 104 runs. His career slash line is .282/.366/.394/.860.

Whether you consider him Cooperstown material is moot at this point. The intangible asset known as team leadership is immeasurable. Rolen leads by example. He is widely respected by his teammates and his clubhouse presence is priceless.

The biggest problem he has had to deal with is his body. In 2010, Rolen's first full season with the Cincinnati Reds, he was healthy enough to play in 133 games as he led his club to a Central Division title and his sixth appearance on an All-Star team. He batted .285, hit 20 HR and drove in 83.

It was his longest season since 2006 when he played 142 games for the St. Louis Cardinals.

2005 and 2011 are the only two seasons in which he played fewer than 100 games. He only appeared in 65 games last year and started in only 60 of those. When he is not in the lineup the Reds suffer.

The question is can his 37-year-old (when the season starts) body stand the rigors of a 100-plus-game season? He has had more surgeries and been on the shelf more than "Medical" Bill Cartright.

In my estimation, he will need to play at least 125 games for the Reds to do optimum damage to the NL Central Division. The Reds have "adequate" backup at the hot corner with youngster Juan Francisco and journeyman Miguel Cairo. Francisco has ultimate power but resembles Willy Mo Pena a little too much to suit me. Cairo is steady but quiet and unassuming.

His "presence" is needed nearly as much as his bat. If he can limit his time on the shelf to maybe one 15-game stint the Reds are in good shape. He will go down at some point—that is a given. But I believe the Reds could weather one round of the disabled list for Rolen.

There is a heavy supporting cast around him with plenty of power and speed. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto supply the power from the left side of the plate and Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips and Chris Heisey from the right side.

2012 will be an interesting year for Cincinnati. They have the pitching to hold the opponents down and a potent offense to put the runs on the board. The biggest "if" of all is the health of Scott Rolen.

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