It's been hard to read or hear anything about the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason without the words "Cliff Lee" or "four aces" or something of the sort attached to it. Oops, it looks like this isn't helping.
There is plenty of excitement surrounding the Phillies' star-studded pitching rotation, but the underwhelming offensive output in 2010 might concern some, at least a bit. Forget about the departure of Jayson Werth for a moment and realize that 2010 featured below-par offensive seasons from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.
There is a lot to prove in 2011, at least amongst the veteran core position players on this squad. Nobody will have more to prove than Rollins. It's not his defense that anybody is worried about. Rollins posted a UZR/150 of 12.3 last season, which, had he qualified, would have been second in the major leagues.
While he is still an elite defensive player, Rollins' offensive numbers have declined in the past two seasons. In 2009, he put up an ugly .250/.296/.423 season in which he temporarily lost his lead off spot in the order. Now in the final year of his contract, Rollins has a lot to prove.
He will have to prove he can still hit, run and field with the best of them. You can probably check two of those three off the list, as J-Roll can still play his position well and can still swipe a bag. What Rollins will have to prove is that he can still be worth the salary he will make this season, which comes in at $8.5 million.
To be fair, the Phillies got more than they could have hoped for when they signed Rollins to a market-friendly five-year $40 million deal prior during the 2005 season. That deal included 2011's club option at the aforementioned $8.5 million.
In all likelihood, Rollins does not have to prove anything to anyone else. He is the second-longest tenured athlete in Philadelphia, and after Sunday's sub-par performance by Eagle David Akers, he could find himself as the longest-tenured athlete before too long.
Rollins isn't going anywhere. He is a Phillie for life, and he has earned it. He has been good to the Phillies on and off the field, and he has developed a unique bond with manager Charlie Manuel over the years. While he may not be the player he once was, the alternatives are clearly much worse.
The Phillies have no immediate replacement for Rollins in the minor leagues, as their top shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis is still at least two years away from contributing anything to the major leagues. His defense also makes some of Hanley Ramirez's worst defensive seasons look Gold-Glove worthy.
The question now becomes: Can Rollins stay healthy? If so, can he contribute? Rollins endured the toughest season (medically) of his career last year, which included two trips to the disabled list for his injured right calf and another injury to his right hamstring that caused him to miss most of September.
When he was healthy, he hit a pedestrian .243 with a .320 on-base percentage and a career-low .374 slugging percentage. The silver lining may be the fact that his right side simply bothered him all season long. The switch-hitting Rollins hit a hard-to-believe .218/.297/.360 vs. right-handed pitchers, but a respectable .297/.368/.405 versus left-handers.
It's entirely possible that Rollins just couldn't drive the ball against his front foot from the left side last season. His low .246 BABIP might not have helped him either. If his luck improves, his numbers will likely improve as well.
By now, we know Rollins isn't going to increase his walk rate substantially at this stage in his career, although last season's was actually the highest of his career. He simply might just need his heath to get him going once more. At the age of 32, it would be hard to think of Rollins' career as being near its end.
He'll need his legs as well. He stole just 17 bases last season thanks to the injuries. As a team, the Phillies will need to run more, and Rollins is a big part of that.
Most importantly, the Phillies can ill-afford another offensive disappearing act in the postseason in 2011. The pitching will certainly help carry them, but the offense will have to do its part. The veterans have a lot to prove.
What does Rollins have to prove in 2011? We already know the Phillies will be the "team to beat." Rollins doesn't have to proclaim such anymore. He should start with being the shortstop to beat in 2011.