Back on Oct. 11, after the Reds were eliminated from the playoffs in Game Five of the National League Division Series, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that Cincinnati’s third baseman, Scott Rolen, had played his last major-league game. But the 37-year-old Rolen never formally announced that he was hanging up his cleats, and, after a winter of flip-flopping, it appears that he intends to wear them for at least one more year.
Rolen wants to return for 2013, may fit better with Dodgers than Reds
According to Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay, Rolen has firmly decided to return, putting the ball in general manager Walt Jocketty’s court. The problem is that Jocketty seemingly spent the winter operating under the assumption that Rolen would retire, adding the slick-fielding Jack Hannahan to spell projected starter Todd Frazier at the hot corner. With just 10 days left before spring training, finding room for Rolen, both in the budget and on the roster, could pose a challenge.
Fay believes that the Reds have already reached their spending limit for the 2013 season, based on Jocketty’s decision to backload, or defer payments in, some of the contracts that he has recently tendered. For example, Jonathan Broxton—who signed a three-year, $21 million hitch on Nov. 28 and is expected to take over the closer role from Aroldis Chapman—is set to earn only $4 million this year, before his salaries spike to $7 million in 2014 and $9 million in 2015. Similarly, Ryan Ludwick’s two-year pact includes a $4.5 million buyout for a third-year club option, a framework that essentially served as an accounting gimmick, enabling Jocketty to bump the total value of the deal up to $15 million, while deferring nearly a third of that outlay without interest.
If Fay’s read on the significance of the deferrals is accurate, then Rolen would need to settle for a considerably lower paycheck than the $6.5 million sum that he took home in 2012. Suppose, for now, that Rolen and his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, are amiable to more team-friendly terms. The next hurdle, opening up a roster spot and allocating a reasonable dose of at-bats, might be even trickier to clear.
The Frazier-Hannahan combination at third base is somewhat unorthodox, but it has the potential to be productive. Frazier offers right-handed power and can hold his own in the field; Hannahan, a left-handed hitter, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the league, and did enough versus northpaws (.268 TAv) last year to warrant more than just defensive-replacement and utility-man work. There is little room on the bench for a third corner infielder that does not bring additional versatility, and, even during his athletic prime, Rolen never made a major-league appearance at an up-the-middle or outfield position.
Jocketty echoed that sentiment to Fay on Thursday night, when he told him, “We’re talking about the details—how much opportunity is there.” Given the Reds’ roster situation, and the public-relations challenge for Jocketty of potentially closing the door on an accomplished player, I could picture their discussions going something like this, with Jerry Seinfeld playing Jocketty and George Costanza playing Rolen.
George/Rolen: All right, OK, let’s go, details!
Jerry/Jocketty: Nah, I can’t give details.
George/Rolen: You wha?
Jerry/Jocketty: I can’t give details.
George/Rolen: No details?
Jerry/Jocketty: I’m not in the mood.
George/Rolen: You ask me here to have lunch; you tell me you would [consider bringing me back], and then say you’re not in the mood for details? Now, you listen to me: I want details, and I want them right now! I don’t have a job. I have no place to go. You’re not in the mood. Well, you GET in the mood!
The script fits almost perfectly, because Rolen lacks attractive suitors and Jocketty does not have an opening for him. Cincinnati’s bench presently consists of Devin Mesoraco (the backup catcher), Hannahan (the corner-infield reserve), Jason Donald (the middle-infield reserve), Chris Heisey (the right-handed-hitting backup outfielder), and Xavier Paul (the left-handed-hitting backup outfielder). Together, those five comprise one of the most well-rounded benches in the league, and none of its members can easily be displaced. Furthermore, a scout told our own John Perrotto earlier this week, “I don’t see any way Scotty can even come close to playing everyday anymore.” If logic trumps sentimentality, then Rolen’s only path to an Opening Day job in Cincinnati involves an injury to Frazier, Hannahan, or Joey Votto.
And his lone alternative, at least based on the reports that have surfaced in recent weeks, is to hope for a part-time gig with the Dodgers, whose infield situation is more fluid. The same scout told Perrotto that Luis Cruz—who emerged as a pleasant surprise in the weeks before general manager Ned Colletti splurged on Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—projects better as a utility man than as an everyday player on a contender. But Cruz, like Rolen, bats right-handed, and their defensive merits are at best comparable—at worst, disparately in favor of the former—at this stage of the latter’s career.
Manager Don Mattingly wooed Rolen a few days ago, proposing a chance to serve as insurance for Cruz while also spelling Gonzalez at first base, but his pitch left two questions unanswered. Can Rolen outperform Cruz, even if the 28-year-old’s BABIP regresses from last year’s .320 perch? And, can Rolen, who has not made a single professional appearance away from the hot corner, handle a sudden shift across the diamond in his 17th major-league season? The answer to both of those questions would likely need to be affirmative for Rolen to contribute meaningfully to the Dodgers’ cause. Then again, given the current state of Mattingly’s bench, Colletti could do worse than to take a flier on a veteran seeking one more chance to earn his second ring.
Padres’ extension talks with Chase Headley hit a wall
General manager Josh Byrnes and agent Randy Hendricks were able to overcome a wide gap in arbitration figures and meet nearly halfway on Headley’s 2013 salary earlier this week, but per Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune, they are no closer to a longer-term agreement. And, Headley himself told Center on Thursday that the negotiations have been tabled for the foreseeable future.
Corey Brock, who covers the Padres for MLB.com, immediately smelled trouble when the aforementioned figures were exchanged on Jan. 18. Headley, who asked for $10.3 million, and the team, which offered $7.075 million, settled at $8.575 million, but as the third baseman indicated in Center’s story, that compromise was driven largely by Hendricks’ lofty starting point. It should come as no surprise, then, that the agent is shooting for the moon in extension talks.
Byrnes can afford to bide his time for now, since Headley is under the Padres’ control (via arbitration) through 2014, but it won’t be long before he is forced to render a verdict on the 28-year-old’s future in San Diego. As I wrote a few days ago, Byrnes’ primary issue rests in the perception that his team’s window of competition may only begin to nudge open before Headley prepares to bolt. If the sides make no further progress toward a long-term commitment over the next 10 months, Headley could become a prime candidate for the hot-stove spotlight at the Winter Meetings in Orlando.