GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox signed 37-year-old Jimmy Rollins to a $2 million minor league deal with an invite to spring training Monday, a move that opens the door for the 2007 National League MVP to be their starting shortstop despite his sagging offensive numbers in 2015.
A four-time Gold Glove winner (most recently in 2012) with the Philadalphia Phillies, the switch-hitting Rollins batted .224 with a .285 on-base percentage over 563 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. He hit 13 homers and had 12 stolen bases.
The Sox’ plan, at least tentatively going into camp, was to start Tyler Saladino, a good defender who batted .225 in his first major league season in 2015 at shortstop. The Sox first reached out Rollins, who had offers with other teams to serve a super-utility type role but preferred the Sox because of a chance to start, in December.
“First and foremost, it provides us with another quality option for our infield,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “It provides us with some veteran depth in that area where we previously did not have it. And again, it adds to what we feel is a quality mix in the clubhouse as far as a leader, he brings energy and a competitive edge each day.
Rollins, who has played shortstop exclusively during a career that began with the Phillies in 2000, ranked fifth among NL shortstops with a .983 fielding percentage, committing nine errors in 526 chances. He ranks among the top five active players in career at-bats, runs, doubles, triples and stolen bases, and he did pick up his production during the second half of 2015, posting a slash line of .244/.310/.395 from July to the end of the season.
He is expected in camp Thursday, two days after the club’s first full squad workout. The Sox have a long history of acquiring aging stars past their prime — see Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones, Roberto Alomar to name three — and the obvious question is what is left in Rollins’ tank.
“We’re going to find out together,” Hahn said. “I know he feels great, he had to play through some injuries last year, he has a long history of doing that and perhaps some of those weighed on him a little bit last season. 2014 was a very quality year, consistent with what he did the bulk of his career. We’ll find out together exactly where he’s at.”
While Rollins will be given every opportunity to show it, Hahn said “No one is given jobs until they earn jobs. So there is certainly the opportunity that Jimmy could find himself playing fairly regularly at short, but he’s also going to come in and prepare to be available on more of a utility basis playing multiple positions depending on how things play out.”
Rollins has played almost exclusively at shortstop during his accomplished career, but Hahn believes his athleticism would play out at second base or third, if needed there. Saladino, who excelled defensively at third last year having limited experience at the position, profiles as a better utility player.
Manager Robin Ventura talked to Saladino about the move Monday morning.
“Sally’s going to do exactly where he came here to do and that’s play hard and play for the White Sox and try and do well,” Ventura said. “As far as playing time and everything else, we’ll see how that goes out.”
“I think it takes pressure off him,” Hahn said. “It provides Robin with a chance to acclimate him into the fulltime role and just having a guy who has been that guy before that both Saladino, Tim [Anderson] and our other young players can see how he goes about his business, keeps his body in shape for a full season, how he prepares for games will be beneficial.”
The Sox may have one more move to make, perhaps for a second-tier free agent outfielder such as Will Venable or Austin Jackson. Indications are that Dexter Fowler would be out of their price range. Fowler would also cost a compensation pick which currently stands as No. 27 in the 2016 draft.
“I haven’t signed that Opening Day roster and sent it to MLB just yet,” Hahn said. “Until that happens we’re going to feel like there’s always something else we can do.”