While talent led Jimmy Rollins to the major leagues, confidence made him a winner and sparked the most successful run in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The former NL MVP and three-time All-Star shortstop was officially traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, the first major step in a rebuilding process for a team that’s been on a steady decline for three years.
In his first day out of limbo, Rollins was eager to get to work chasing a championship back home in California.
"I don’t feel I have to re-prove myself at all," Rollins said. "It’s sort of a fresh start. It’s hard to (get) a fresh start going into your 15th season."
The Dodgers finalized their trade for the All-Star shortstop on Friday, sending right-hander Zach Eflin and left-hander Tim Windle to the Phillies for Rollins and $1 million to cover part of his $11 million salary in 2015. Los Angeles had to wait to unveil its acquisition until Matt Kemp’s trade to the San Diego Padres was finished Thursday.
After his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia wound down this year, the 36-year-old Rollins agreed to waive his no-trade clause. He said the Dodgers were his top trade destination — for reasons both fanciful and practical.
"I’ve always loved the color blue," Rollins said. "That’s my favorite color. I think I just naturally love wearing that uniform because of that color.
"But the most important thing is they’re winning right this very moment," he added. "Playing against them, I get a sense of what they have going on in the clubhouse by seeing the bench. It reminds me of what we used to have in Philadelphia, just the joy of playing and being around each other, so that’s attractive. And then they happen to have some pretty good guys on their team. I think you guys know the MVP, Cy Young dude (Clayton Kershaw). He makes you want to play behind him any time he takes the mound, so I’ll get that opportunity now."
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ new president of baseball operations, targeted Rollins to replace free-agent departure Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.
"Jimmy fits us incredibly well," Friedman said. "He really brings some grit to our team and is obviously very experienced at playing baseball in October. He still has a lot of life in his body. Switch-hitter, good defender, and he adds that element of speed to our lineup that we were looking for."
As for the Phllies, next to go could be three-time All-Star lefty Cole Hamels, 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard and six-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. Right fielder Marlon Byrd, catcher Carlos Ruiz and former AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee also are available.
"Jimmy is both an iconic player and person whom I have had the great joy of watching grow up in this game and this city," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "His contributions to the franchise and to Philadelphia are unparalleled and I wish him the best in Los Angeles. This transaction is one that I believe benefits both Jimmy and the Phillies."
Rollins leaves as the franchise leader in hits (2,306) and doubles (479) and ranks second in games played (2,090), extra-base hits (806), stolen bases (453) and total bases (3,655). He won four Gold Glove Awards, hit 216 homers, had 887 RBI and batted .267 in 15 seasons.
But Rollins is best known for his swagger more than his unique skills.
The Phillies hadn’t won anything in 14 years when Rollins boldly proclaimed they were the team to beat in the NL East before the 2007 season. Then the switch-hitting, leadoff hitter backed that up by having an MVP year, and helping the Phillies overcome a seven-game deficit with 17 to play to catch the New York Mets. That started Philadelphia’s streak of postseason appearances.
Rollins hasn’t come close to matching the numbers he put up in 2007 — .296 average, 30 homers, 94 RBI, 20 triples and 41 steals. But he’s still an excellent fielder with extra-base pop and even showed more patience at the plate last year by drawing a career-high 64 walks.
"The Dodgers are very lucky to acquire a player like Jimmy," Utley said. "I’ve said it time and time again that Jimmy makes everyone around him better. The team will miss his leadership on the field and his infectious smile, but most of all, I will miss our pregame handshake."
The 36-year-old Rollins was the longest-tenured athlete in the city after making his major-league debut on Sept. 17, 2000. He helped the Phillies to 11 winning seasons in 12 years, five consecutive division titles, two NL pennants and the 2008 World Series title.
Rollins was the clubhouse leader, a guy who kept teammates loose and always had a smile on his face. He drew Charlie Manuel’s ire a few times when he didn’t run out popups, but was one of the former manager’s favorite players.
The Phillies finished last in 2014 for the first time since 2000, despite a team-record payroll over $180 million. Management has said it doesn’t expect to contend before 2017 and is trying to acquire younger players for high-priced veterans.
Hamels has the most value in the trade market followed by Byrd. Howard’s contract — he’s owed $60 million — makes it difficult to move the slugging first baseman unless the Phillies pay a significant part of his salary. Lee finished the year on the disabled list so he has to prove he’s healthy. Utley has a no-trade clause, so he would have to accept a deal.
Speaking from his offseason home in Tampa, Fla., Rollins said the finality of his departure from Philadelphia is still sinking in after watching countless teammates leave town during an entire career in one city.
"It’s business," Rollins said. "I shed my tears for the very first time when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu (in July 2006). That tore a piece of my heart out, but it also brought home the realization that this is a business, and things are going to happen and you can’t be emotional about them. You have to understand what this is and take it in stride and go on about your business."
Rollins said he is printing a "love letter" to Philadelphia fans in the Inquirer newspaper this weekend, thanking them for their support since 2000.
As for what the Phillies received from the Dodgers:
Elflin, 20, was 10-7 with a 3.80 ERA this year in 24 starts for Class A-Lake Elsinore.
Windle, 22, was a second-round draft pick in 2013 and went 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 25 starts and one relief appearance this year for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.