Jimmy Rollins and his desire for a five-year deal

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According to SI.com’s Jon Heyman, the Phillies and free agent Jimmy Rollins are talking, but Rollins is still asking for a five-year contract, meaning a quick resolution probably isn’t on the way.

Rollins is coming off something of a bounce-back season at age 32, having hit .268/.338/.399 in 567 at-bats. That was good for a 101 OPS+ (OPS adjusted for league and ballpark, with the average player coming in at 100). He finished at 87 and 85 in the two seasons prior to that. Those were two of his three lowest marks in his 12 years as a big leaguer.

Rollins still has considerable value as an everyday shortstop, but given that he appears well past his prime offensively, a three-year deal would surely be much more attractive to the Phillies. They could well get burned if they commit to him for his age-36 and 37 seasons now.

But what is the risk? Here’s a glance at how the players deemed most comparable to Rollins after their age-32 seasons performed at 36 and 37. I’m not going in depth here, just a quick look at their OPS+ and playing time for those two seasons. The player list is from Baseball-Reference.com.

Alan Trammell: 84 in 292 AB, 82 in 223 AB|
Craig Biggio: 88 in 577 AB, 96 in 628 AB
Joe Morgan: 115 in 461 AB, 115 in 308 AB
Dick Bartrell: Out of baseball
Lou Whitaker: 133 in 383 AB, 121 in 322 AB
Ryne Sandberg: 96 in 554 AB, 83 in 447 AB
Edgar Renteria: N/A
Derek Jeter: 90 in 663 AB, 97 in 546 AB
Travis Jackson: Out of baseball
Ray Durham: 113 in 370 AB, retired

It’s not quite as ugly as I thought it might be. The problem is that Rollins simply isn’t as good as most of the players on this list. He has a 97 OPS+ through age 32. Trammell, who should be in the Hall of Fame, was at 114. Biggio was at 125, and Morgan was at a whopping 140.

Rollins is more comparable to Renteria, but that’s not fair either. Renteria, who plays next year at 36, had his last good season at 30. Durham was a similar hitter to Rollins, and while he was out of baseball at 37, it certainly wasn’t because of his bat. Rollins has a lot in common offensively with former outfielder Marquis Grissom, who was just as good as ever at ages 36 and 37.

I suspect that Rollins will be a below average regular by the time 2015 rolls around, but he probably won’t be a big liability. The Phillies can afford to compromise and give him a four-year deal, solidifying their shortstop situation while they still rank among the game’s best teams these next couple of seasons. Things will likely get ugly in Philadelphia come 2015 anyway, so throwing an extra $15 million of so Rollins’ way that year shouldn’t wreak too much havoc.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.