SS Rollins thinks he will return to Phillies

The possibility that Jimmy Rollins won’t wear red pinstripes

again hasn’t crossed his mind.

The 2007 NL MVP and three-time All-Star shortstop is headed

toward free agency for the first time, and he wants to return to

the Philadelphia Phillies. The team wants him back.

But those mutual feelings are no guarantee Rollins will be here

next year.

”I look good in red, I think,” Rollins said Tuesday. ”You go

back to when I got drafted, I didn’t know much about the Phillies.

But when I put that hat on, looking at those first pictures when I

got drafted, holding a bat, you know, and a Phillies T-shirt on, it

started to look real good on me. I think I’ve worn it pretty well

over the years. I really haven’t thought about putting on any other

colors other than the red-and-white pinstripes.”

Rollins, who turns 33 next month, has spent his entire career in

Philadelphia after being selected in the second round of the 1996

amateur draft.

He has been the heart and soul of a team that has won five

consecutive NL East titles and the 2008 World Series. Rollins is

undeniably the team leader, a charismatic personality who brings

swagger to the clubhouse.

Rollins was the guy who boldly proclaimed the Phillies were the

team to beat in the division before the 2007 season, even though

Philadelphia hadn’t won anything in 14 years. He backed that up by

having an MVP year, and leading the Phillies to their first

postseason appearance since 1993.

”There’s no question we want Jimmy back and be in our uniform

and play shortstop for us for the next several years,” general

manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. ”Whether that happens kind of

depends on if we get to the finish line on it. But Jimmy knows

where we stand. Those things will be private.”

Rollins made it clear he wants a five-year deal. He doesn’t plan

to give the Phillies a hometown discount, either.

”It is a business, you know, regardless of how you feel and

what you want,” Rollins said. ”Things have to be negotiated and

worked out and agreed upon. I really see it probably being a good

chance that things will work out.

”If I was older, I’d take a shorter term. I’ll be 33 by the

time I get the contract, which means I still have probably about a

good six years left of being able to perform at a high level and

possibly even more.”

In the four years since he was MVP, Rollins hasn’t come close to

matching the numbers he put up in 2007 – .296 average, 30 homers,

94 RBIs, 20 triples, 41 steals.

He hit .268 with 16 homers, 63 RBIs and had 30 steals this

season. Rollins has been plagued by leg injuries in three of the

last four years, and played in a career-low 88 games last year. He

started 135 this season.

Don’t tell him he’s on the decline, however.

”It’s a little slower getting up in the morning, but the skills

are where they’ve always been,” he said. ”They haven’t gone

anywhere. I know you guys like to make me feel old sometimes, but

it’s just simply not the case. In ’07, I had an absolutely

fantastic season. I had a lot to prove and a lot to live up to, and

I was able to do it. Prior to that, and after that, I’ve pretty

much been the same consistent player, barring a couple

injuries.”

Though his offensive production has slipped, Rollins is still

one of the top defensive players in the majors. He has won three

Gold Gloves and has a .984 career fielding percentage.

”There’s no question in my mind that he’s still one of the

premier shortstops in the game as far as defense is concerned,”

Amaro said. ”You know that when the ground ball is hit in the six

hole, he’s going to catch it and throw it across the diamond. That

is probably the most important element of what Jimmy brings, along

with his personality. I think that that’s one of the biggest

elements that he brings, his ability to be so steady. He’s about as

steady a shortstop as you can have.”

Rollins is one of several free agents the five-time defending NL

East champions will have. The Phillies set a franchise record with

102 wins, but failed to advance past the first round in a year when

winning the World Series was the expectation.

Closer Ryan Madson’s contract is up. Amaro said the team wants

him back, and would sign a veteran closer if Madson goes elsewhere.

Left fielder Raul Ibanez likely won’t return, and Amaro is

uncertain whether the team will pick up Roy Oswalt’s $16 million

option.

”Change is good,” Amaro said. ”I don’t think we need a whole

lot of changes. We’re going to have to change because we have a lot

of free agents. The changes may happen organically.”