Scott Rolen: From Savior to Cancer-How Did it Happen?
According to an article on ESPN, the Phillies Scott Rolen is actively courting the St. Louis Cardinals now in hopes of getting traded out of a very bad situation in Philly. The reported offer is Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and a bucket of ice to be named later for Rolen if the Phillies eat his salary for this year. The trade makes sense for both teams. The Cardinals get to fill a whole on the team in time for the pennant race without giving up much in return. The Phillies get three live bodies (Smith did pitch well for the Cardinals last year and is still young, 22), and get to rid themselves of a controversy that is now in its second season.
Scott Rolen arrived in Philadelphia in late 1996. The floundering Phils were headed to a 67-95 record, but the young Rolen showed promise (while still breaking his finger in early September) and was handed the starting third base job in training camp. He soon became the heir apparent to Mike Schmidt in the minds of the Philadelphia fans and media. Everything he did was praised. He hit for power and for a decent average. He was slick fielding and had a good arm. He ran the bases well. He was described as being a student of the game, which was unusual for someone so young. He was a soft-spoken, Gary Cooper type. He was the savior of the Phillies franchise. He was the man who would lead them out of their malaise back to a championship. How did he ever become a pariah in Philadelphia and a whipping boy for sports columnist Bill Conlin and the Philadelphia media? Let's see if we can figure it out.
In 1997 the Phillies started to rebuild around him adding first baseman Rico Brogna, OF Danny Tartabull, and starters Mark Leiter and Mark Portugal, establishing Mike Lieberthal as the starting catcher, and grooming Wayne Gomes as the closer of the future. They had a core of young starters (Beech, Tyler Green, Stephenson, Grace, and Maduro) who would grow to help #1 starter Curt Schilling. They had a new young manager by the name of Terry Francona. They finished 68-94, but that was OK-they had just started rebuilding.
1998 brought outfielders Bobby Abreu and Doug Glanville. Marlon Anderson was being groomed for second base. Desi Relaford took over at short. Starter Carlton Loewer was to be a rookie sensation. Rolen was getting better each year, and the Phils ended up 75-87, third in the NL East. Things looked great for '99.
In 1999 Marlon Anderson, as expected, moved into his started role at second and Wayne Gomes became the closer after newly acquired Jeff Brantley went down. OF Ron Gant was signed to bolster the offense. Starting pitcher Chad Ogea was acquired from Cleveland. Pitcher Paul Byrd, acquired at the end of '98, blossomed. Robert Person came from nowhere and captured a spot in the rotation. And Randy Wolf was promoted from the minors to the rotation. The Phillies ended up 77-85, not a vast improvement over '98 but Rolen missed fifty games due injury, Relaford missed almost 100, Schilling missed a third of his starts, and Brantley missed almost the entire year. Besides the team just hadn't gelled yet.
Pitcher Andy Ashby was signed for 2000. But the Phillies were not doing well and a number of changes were made throughout the season. After a great deal of speculation that had been ongoing throughout the re-building process, ace Curt Schilling was traded to Arizona bringing Travis Lee, a player the Phillies had coveted for years, to play first base, starting pitchers Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa, and then-reliever Vicente Padilla. Bruce Chen, Kent Bottenfield, and were added to the rotation mid-season. Rookie sensation Pat "The Bat" Burrell broke into the lineup in 2000 displacing aging Ron Gant. Rolen missed over 30 games and his power numbers slid (actually his HRs and RBI went down, but his slugging average went up). The Phillies ended up 65-97 and in last place.
In 2001, Francona was replaced as manager by fiery ex-Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa. Burrell took over in left field. Rookie Jimmie Rollins became the starting shortstop. Marlon Anderson was again manning second after a 2000 spent mostly in the minors. The Phils had a young staff featuring Dave Coggins, Nelson Figueroa, Brandon Duckworth, and Randy Wolf. Veteran relievers Jose Mesa, former Phil Ricky Bottalico, and Rheal Cormier were signed. To the surprise of everyone including perhaps the Phillies themselves the team gives chase to Atlanta in the NL East until the last week of the season. They were even in first place as laet as September 1 (tied with Atlanta). Rolen was dogged all your about his contract, finally stated that he and the team would not negotiate it until after the season, and then proceeded to have a solid year after an early slump. Best of all he was healthy for the entire season.
Expectations were high for the Phillies going into the 2002 season. The Phillies were young and building. The Braves were aging and dismantling. A number of polls picked the Phillies to win the division. In the off-season, Rolen rejected a $140 million, 10-year contract extension from the Phillies explaining that it was not about the money; he did not feel that they were committed to winning. How could he say such things, the locals thought. Here the Phils had almost reached the promised land, and though they had not added to their core in the off-season (starting pitcher Terry Adams was the only real addition), they didn't need to add-they had the core of a winning team in place. This is what the had been building to all of the years while Rolen had toiled. How could he now want not want to reap the benefits? Of course, the sam people who criticize players for making too much money criticized Rolen for not taking the ridiculous salary.
Then the wheels came off the Phillies' 2002 season. They finished April with a 9-18 record. May wasn't much better-they were 21-32 at the month end. At this writing they are 49-55, in the cellar of the NL East, but are slowly crawling back to respectability. Padilla, a throw-in in the Schilling trade, became one of the premier starting pitchers in the NL. They have started to shake up their lineup acquiring Jeremy Giambi from the A's on May 22 and working Ricky Ledee into the lineup instead of Glanville.
Rolen has said that he is no longer discussing a new contract with the Phillies while the season is in progress. Throughout the season speculation of his being traded has hounded Rolen and the team in general. At one point reporter Bill Conlin quoted an unnamed player who called Rolen a "cancer." Rolen's average has slipped into the .250s and his OPS (on-base plus slugging) has slipped to the lowest since his rookie year. Despite this, Rolen was named the starting third baseman on the All-Star, his first All-Star appearance (some speculated that the contract talk made his name more recognizable to the fans). Since then speculation has been building leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Meanwhile, Conlin has taken to using Rolen's name as pejorative verb meaning grousing in the clubhouse or on the field.
Am I the only one who sees a trend here? The Phillies as a group and especially their starting pitching corps have been a revolving door since 1997. The Phillies acquire overpriced, aging, veteran talent (Gant, Adams, Parent, Ashby, Tartabull, Potugal, Brantley, etc.). These players either get injured or are unproductive. At the same time, the Phillies call on young talent especially in the pitching corps that never proves effective at the major-league level (e.g., Gomes, Loewer, Green, Relaford). The young players they recruit from other organizations never become the players the Phillies expect them to be. Witness Travis Lee, Bruce Chen, Nelson Figueroa, and Chad Ogea. There are exceptions: Abreu has been superb, Glanville was productive for a time, Giambi has been a help in 2002, Rollins has been an All-Star, Anderson is becoming steady, Wolf has been effective, and Burrell may be one of the best hitters in the league. The minor trades and throw-in players have been very effective: Robert Person, Vicente Padilla. But overall the Phillies have gone through a tremendous number of players and philosophies in five plus years.
The Philadelphia fans and media are understandably angry at having waiting so long and seemingly getting so close and then falling back so far. Someone must be blamed. So it's the guy Rolening around the clubhouse, especially when he's so arrogantly quiet about the whole thing. Rolen never continued the development and promise of his first three years. Well, he was injury-prone-that was another of his shortcomings. The elements that booed Schmidt in his day are now ruling the day, and Rolen is an outcast.
Scott Rolen will probably get traded out of Philadelphia if not by the July 31 trade deadline perhaps by the August 31 waiver deadline. That failing, Rolen will play out his string with Philly, and Collective Bargaining Agreement (and God) willing, he will sign a contract to play for another major-league team. Rolen will enter 2003 with a new team, a new contract, and the weight of the world (or of Bill Conlin whichever is more) off his shoulders. He will be 27 and probably will be entering the most productive period of his career. The Phillies will continue to be the Phillies with all that entails. Who do you think will have the last laugh?