GLENDALE, Ariz. – Did the White Sox get a $2 million bargain in shortstop Jimmy Rollins? Or does Rollins get added to Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar, Jose Canseco, John Kruk ,Ken Griffey Jr., Dave Stieb et al on a long list of premium All-Stars who came to the Sox at or near the end of their careers to make a marginal or insignificant contribution?
“I’m going to wait and see,” Sox vice president Ken Williams said Thursday morning, as Rollins took part behind him in his first workouts of the spring with his new team. “All of our information suggests he is still a very talented player. He’s not the MVP guy that he used to be, we know that. But he’s a very talented player who can help a team that has championship aspirations. To what degree, that will be shown in spring training, That will be shown in his work and talked about in countless meetings as we go foward. We’ll come out of spring training with a plan.”
Rollins, a 37-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player with the Philadelphia Phillies, came to the Sox because he had a chance to be a starter.
“This was the place where I could come in and fight for a [starting] position,” Rollins said. “I had a couple of other places to go to with some guaranteed spots, but no matter how well I was going to do I was going to be a “super-utility,” is what they like to call it these days, so I have an opportunity to come in here and fight for a position.”
Rollins, in one year with the Dodgers last season, hit a career low .224 with 13 homers in 144 games keeping the shortstop seat warm for their top prospect, Kyle Seager. He might do the same for the Sox’ top position prospect, Tim Anderson.
If it’s mentoring the Sox want, Rollins will provide.
“You immediately see the impact a guy like him has, making his way over to Tim Anderson,’’ manager Robin Ventura said after workouts. “That’s just the way you like to see the game take care of their own.’’
Ventura said Rollins “can still play” but it remains to be seen “how much the body can take” at his age. Only four shortstops Rollins’ age have played 100 games in the last 25 years – Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel and Mike Bordick
“He’s not a normal-looking 37. He’s a very fit 37,’’ Ventura said of the 5-7, 175-pound switch-hitter.
Rollins, personable and engaging in his first media scrum as a Sox, adds another respected leader-type presence to the clubhouse.
“People have seen me that way,’’ he said. “I am me. I’m charismatic, I’ve been told, and that automatically draws attention to you and with that comes responsibility. I’ve been a leader for most of my career, yeah.’’
Of more significance is how his defense will play at this stage of his career, not to mention his bat. He’s not that far removed from 2014, when he hit 17 homers, batted .243 and stole 28 bases. Is there more of that to be gleaned? Rollins said he wants to play “until they basically take the uniform and tell me to go coach somewhere. Who knows how long that will be?”
If it’s sooner than Rollins wants, the Sox would likely go with Tyler Saladino, a good fielder who hit .225 in his first season in 2015.
“That’s the one thing to take into consideration [about the acquisition], it’s not going to be ‘that guy is going to play no matter what,’ ’’ Ventura said. “We’re going to see that as he goes through spring training and we see how he does, how he’s moving around, how he feels and how he’s playing. It all goes together. Knowing the individuals we have, we have some versatility to change it up somewhat.’’
Rollins, a switch-hitter, spent the 2015 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .224 with 24 doubles, 13 home runs, 41 RBI, 71 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. He ranked fifth among NL shortstops with a .983 fielding percentage, committing nine errors in 526 chances.
This is Rollins’ second spring training in Arizona, which he prefers climate wise.
“I’ve always stayed in shape, always watched my weight in the offseason because I know that as you get older it’s harder to lose those pounds, you don’t do it as quickly,” he said. “Why put yourself in a position where you have to work hard when your No. 1 objective in spring training is to get back in baseball shape, getting used to running, getting used to getting up every day, putting on cleats, swinging at game-style pitches and not just batting practice. I’m in great shape.”
Rollins has worn No. 11, 6 and 29 during his career, mostly 11. With Luis Aparicio’s 11 retired by the White Sox, Rollins will wear No. 7 with the Sox.
“I remember growing up we would walk over to the Seven-Eleven [as a kid],” Rollins said. “I figured they go together. And we used to play dice in high school. Seven and 11 are good numbers, as long as you’re hitting them early. So I figure I’d go with that.”