Could Scott Rolen Return To Philadelphia?

(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Scott Rolen and J.D. Drew could be two of the most reviled visiting players to ever come through Philadelphia. Drew should have been a Phillie, but wasn't and Rolen was a Phillie, but decided he didn't want to be. But with the Phillies needing a third baseman and the St. Louis Cardinals considering moving Rolen, could there possibly be a way for Rolen to find his way back to Philly?

Just the basic facts...

Scott Rolen is definitely disenchanted with the team that he termed "baseball heaven" when he was traded to the Cardinals in 2002. The main problem seems to be between he and manager Tony La Russa, but the organization in general is as unhappy with Rolen as he seems to be with them. The problem seems to have started in May of 2005 when Rolen underwent shoulder surgery after a first base collision with Hee Seop Choi of the Dodgers. The procedure was done by Cards team physician Dr. George Paletta and there have been whispers that the Cardinals hid the severity of the injury from Rolen and that he threatened legal action against the team before he underwent a second surgery, this time done by Reds physician Dr. Timothy Kremchek.

The problems cropped up again in the 2006 postseason when Rolen was taken out of the lineup by La Russa after struggling at the plate late in the season and going 1-for-12 in the first three games of the NLDS. "La Russa chose not to call Rolen into his office to tell him as he knew Rolen would react badly. His approach was to let Rolen vent on his own once the third baseman saw his name was not on the lineup card. A very angry Rolen took it personally, calling it among other things, a 'benching'," according to Brian Walton, Managing Editor of The Birdhouse. Rolen's concern over being "benched" proved unfounded as he went on to play in every game of the NLCS and the World Series and went on a ten-game hitting streak as the Cardinals won the World Series. Walton pointed out that Rolen had another cortisone shot and some rest time as the Cardinals won the NLDS in four games and enjoyed some time off before the start of the NLCS, which had to help Rolen's physical condition. While his ego was still bruised, Rolen met with La Russa and GM Walt Jocketty in the Spring of 2007 and things seemed to be okay. "Through 2007, there were more shots and declining results, leading to Kremchek also performing Rolen's third surgery late in the season. The diminished range of motion in Rolen's shoulder while hitting and resultant lack of power needed to be addressed," explained Walton.

This is the scene right after Scott Rolen collided with Hee Seop Choi on a play at first base. It was this play that started the shoulder problems and ultimately the uneasiness between Scott Rolen and the Cardinals. If not for being injured on this play, you have to wonder if the Cardinals would have Rolen on the trading block and what sort of numbers he may have put up instead of seeing his offensive production fall off.

La Russa has a habit of sending each of his players a letter after the season, letting them know what he expects from them the following year. This year's postseason letter to Rolen may have been the final blow to the Rolen/Cardinals relationship when the third baseman took exception to the expectations that La Russa outlined for him in the letter. At the recently concluded GM meetings, the Cardinals were shopping Rolen, who would have to give his consent to any deal since his contract has a no-trade clause firmly attached.

All things considered, he'd rather be in Philly?

As unhappy as Rolen was in Philadelphia, could he be even unhappier in St. Louis? Rolen's main complaint was that the Phillies weren't doing enough to win and he grew tired of the situation. It was the same complaint lodged by Curt Schilling, but the two are viewed quite differently among Philadelphia fans. Schilling, was in fact, targeted by the Phillies as a key offseason signing had he hit free agency and Schilling has always been open about his desire to return to the city where he's still active in fundraising events for ALS and other charities. Message boards were choked full of giddy fans salivating over the potential return of their once and future hero, while some remembered the scenes of Schilling sitting in the dugout with a towel over his face when Mitch Williams entered in relief of Schilling. Those same fans remember that just a couple of seasons before Rolen wanted out, Schilling made the same request and wound up being traded to Arizona where he went on to win a World Series title.

It never helped Rolen's cause that he was termed a "cancer" in the Phillies clubhouse by an unidentified player in a local newspaper article. Neither the writer of that article or any of the players ever admitted to which player made those comments and there are some theories that the quote may have been exaggerated. However, the damage was done among fans and Rolen was suddenly lumped into the same class as J.D. Drew, while Schilling was still a local hero. While The Birdhouse's Walton wouldn't use the term cancer, he does point out that Rolen doesn't seem like a happy camper behind the scenes. "I have never seem Rolen in the clubhouse or on the field acting in any manner other than professionally. Having said that however, the last time I can recall him smiling and joking regularly was when Reggie Sanders was on the club (2004-2005). Rolen seemed to take great pleasure out of needling the 'old man'," explained Walton.

While the venom isn't quite as strong when Rolen returns to the City of Brotherly Love, there is still a great deal of animosity at the mere mention of Rolen's name. Memories can be swayed though and if Rolen were to return and help lead the Phillies to a World Series title, all could be forgotten. That's in a perfect world; between now and then would be the irate callers on Philadelphia radio, the doubting newspaper articles and boos just waiting to be unleashed the first time Rolen were to swing through a pitch. Still, Rolen would have the opportunity to turn those feelings around if he were to put up good numbers and the Phillies were to flourish with him as their third baseman and he would be playing for a different breed of men in both the Phillies front office and in the manager's office. Manager Charlie Manuel, who is credited as being one of the better hitting gurus in the game, may be able to do something with Rolen's swing and may even be able to find some tweaking that would help relieve the strain on Rolen's tender shoulder. Plus, Walton says that even with all of the physical problems and off field turmoil, there's one thing about Rolen that has remained the same. "Throughout, Rolen's defense has not been affected appreciably." That would give the Phillies the defense that they need at third and if Manuel was able to help find a comfort zone for Rolen to work within, he could be a nice answer to the Phillies third base problems.

You can't go home again...

It seems obvious that Rolen would never be welcomed back to Philadelphia either by the fans or the team. One thing that has not changed in Philadelphia is the ownership. The same owners that Rolen ripped during his stay in the city are still running things and he was never happy with their efforts and let it be known to any who would listen. Every step that Rolen were to make would be analyzed and critiqued by jaundiced eyes in both the media and among the faithful who flock to Citizens Bank Park. Televisions would glow with vintage video of Rolen and his disgust for the Phillies and his joy at being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, while radios would crackle with sound bites from Rolen and sports radio callers would utter the phrase "cancer in the clubhouse" more than they would "first time caller, long time listener." If Rolen were to wind up back in an operating room or even just on the DL for a short visit, the trade, whoever the Phillies were to give up, would go down as the worst in Philadelphia history. It would be a move that would make fans forget sending a young Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs so many years ago.

Philadelphians have a long memory and don't tolerate ungratefulness. While they were solidly on Rolen's side early in his career, at this point, he would need near MVP type numbers to get himself anywhere near their good graces.

Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out...

One reason why Rolen was so giddy about going to St. Louis is because he believed it to be the perfect scenario. Growing up not too far from the city, Rolen had a dream of winding up back in St. Louis and dreams are something that most fans understand. After all, Curt Schilling's only dream was to play for a contender and fans have allowed that dream as a substantial reason why Schilling deserved to find a greener pasture.

Forgetting all that has happened in the past, the Phillies need help at third base. The fans know it and the team knows it, even if they keep preaching that they're not concerned about third base and aren't looking for any upgrades. The combination of Greg Dobbs and Wes Helms didn't provide anywhere near the offense last season that the Phillies hoped that they would and neither is defensively capable or reliable, especially late in tight games, which is why the Phillies wanted Eric Bruntlett included in their recent deal with Houston. If you want to look at just pure stats, the trio of Dobbs, Helms and Nunez hit a combined .255 last season with 10 home runs and 75 RBI during their time on the field as third basemen. Rolen's numbers were 8-58-.265, but with 217 less at bats than Phillies third basemen had last season. If Rolen were to return to health and his usual offensive form - and that's a big if - he could eclipse those numbers pretty easily, while providing much better defensive coverage at the hot corner.

Let's bottom line this thing

Some things are just too risky. A deal for Rolen could have a big upside and turn into one of those feel good stories of a man returning to a hostile environment that he created and turning around the locals opinions of him by doing good. If only there were a role for Jaclyn Smith to play, the story would be on Lifetime about a week after the season ended. It's more likely though that the story would air on Spike TV right next to those shows where they blow things up and show all kinds of horrible things happening. You can picture it now. Opening Day, Rolen steps to the plate with little reaction from the fans and takes the first pitch hurled to him for a strike as fans begin booing and looking for the nearest thing to throw both at Rolen and into the general manager's box.

Plus, there is the detail of waiving the no-trade clause. Rolen would have to be a masochist to consider doing such a thing and even as bad as things are in St. Louis right now, there couldn't be any way that Rolen would view a return to Philadelphia as a step up. But if he were to give the go-ahead, what would the Phillies have to give up? "If I was Cards GM John Mozeliak, I would ask for Cole Hamels but expect that won't fly and then move to Brett Myers," said Walton. It's not likely that Gillick would consider Myers. One compromise might be Kyle Kendrick, unless Gillick can convince the novice Cardinals GM that Adam Eaton is set for the greatest turn around in baseball history. Perhaps if the Cardinals were to wait until Spring, things could change in their favor. "The problem is that the uncertainty over Rolen's condition means he cannot fetch top dollar. If I was Mozeliak, I would hope and pray that Rolen has a hot March, proving he is well and deal him then," explained Walton. Gee, that would give Eaton time to show that 2007 was just a fluke and he's at the front of the line for the 2008 NL Cy Young balloting.

Making another assumption that the Cardinals and Phillies agree on the players, would the Phillies want Rolen's contract? In one of those long-term deals that always handcuff a team, Rolen has three years left on an eight year deal and will get $12 million in each of the next three seasons. Walton also agrees that the deal will be an obstacle not just in a trade to Philadelphia, but to anywhere else as well. "The Cardinals would appear to be reluctant to eat much if any of that money. However, there is always the possibility of their trade partner also unloading a problem contract of their own to help balance out the deal. Pat Burrell is a name that immediately comes to mind," said Walton. Here's where we crank up the Pat Burrell rumor mill, but as with Rolen, Burrell would have to approve waiving his no-trade clause to head to St. Louis. The Burrell option wouldn't really work either, since he's at the very end of one of those handcuffing deals and has just one season at $14.25 million left to be paid. Plus, dealing Burrell would take him away as the fans whipping boy and leave Rolen completely exposed.

The fact is that when all is considered, said and done, a deal to send Scott Rolen to Philadelphia just doesn't work for the Phillies and the Cardinals aren't likely to be able to pry away what they would want in return. If you're holding out hope for a Rolen deal though, take heart in the fact that Rolen isn't the last player the Phillies would consider bringing to town; that honor is reserved for J.D. Drew.

Special thanks to Brian Walton of The Birdhouse for his contributions to this article.


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