It's Rollins' choice whether to fit with Sandberg
Shortstop can adjust to Phillies manager or simply hope to get through the conflict
If there is, indeed, "strong sentiment" within the Phillies' organization that the club would be better off trading Jimmy Rollins as soon as possible, as ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported Tuesday morning, there is equally strong sentiment in the industry that they'll have trouble doing so on anything resembling a worthwhile level.
It's not just Rollins' status as a 35-year-old shortstop coming off his worst offensive season.
It's not just the $11 million remaining on Rollins' contract.
It's not just the negative public perception that has arisen out of Ryne Sandberg's public frustrations with Rollins' effort and energy this spring.
It is, above all those hurdles, the right that Rollins retains, as a 10-and-5 guy, to veto any trade. And if his public comments on the matter are to be believed, he's not going anywhere.
CSNPhilly.com reported Monday that Rollins "reiterated Sunday that he would not waive his no-trade rights any time soon." Rollins also made it clear that surpassing Mike Schmidt's franchise record for hits -- he is 60 short of doing so -- is hugely important to him.
"There's only 30 guys that are their team's leader in hits," Rollins told the outlet. "It's a pretty high honor."
That Rollins would cite an individual record as reasoning for wanting to stay put only serves to support the argument for moving him. Sandberg, a Hall of Famer who willingly slept in just about every budget motel from Peoria to Lehigh Valley in his dutiful rise up the managerial ranks, has made a point of demanding selflessness from his stars, and Rollins' comments don't do much to adhere to that demand.
But even if the Phillies were to find a suitable fit for Rollins -- the Tigers, of course, make the most sense in the immediate, given their need for a short-term solution as Jose Iglesias' shins heal -- Rollins has final say here. And if he is serious about wanting to stay with the Phils, he is the only one who can effectively end this undoubtedly uncomfortable situation.
Rollins is, as Sandberg told MLB.com, "an important part" of this Phillies team, and not just because of his pedigree as a homegrown hero, the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner and a prime piece of the 2008 World Series-winning club.
Even at his advanced age at his particular position, Rollins can add credence to everything Sandberg is trying to accomplish in his first full season as a Major League skipper. He can adhere to the manager's wishes in the level of effort in the often-monotonous preseason and pregame routines. Rollins can try to be a role model for the players who will remain in red pinstripes long after his final game in Philly. On a pure performance level, he can shorten his swing and focus more on getting on base than going deep -- an issue Sandberg cited almost immediately upon taking over as manager last summer (Philadelphia's perusal of the trade market for Rollins dates back to last summer).
But how realistic is any of that, really?
Sandberg is discovering, as if he didn't already know, that not every superstar approaches his craft quite the way he did in a Cooperstown-worthy career of quiet excellence. Rollins has always been known and prone to handle things his own way, and two years ago, the Phillies rewarded him with a late-career $33 million contract at a time when they could have cut the cord.
The only difference now, of course, is the presence of Sandberg. He replaced Charlie Manuel, who was loyal -- perhaps overly so -- to the players who brought him to the Major League mountaintop. Sandberg knows no such loyalties, and he wants this club to take on the kind of grinder mentality he once embodied.
In the long frame, that should benefit a club that has to seriously rethink its ways, from the amount of use and abuse expected out of aging middle infielders Rollins and Chase Utley to the potential platoon situation with Ryan Howard, colossal contract and all. But it isn't easy to apply a new personality and a new mentality with a club that has so much established veteran talent. One certainly gets the sense that as Sandberg has settled in, Rollins has been a particular source of difficulty.
Alas, there is no easy way out here.
If Rollins, an Oakland native, would only allow a trade to a West Coast team, it's difficult to see those stars aligning, given the depth charts of the teams on the California coast. And even if Rollins were to open his mind to the idea of playing somewhere in so-called flyover country, it's definitely questionable whether the Phils would get a worthwhile return for him and whether they'd be better off with Freddy Galvis as their everyday shortstop.
The Phillies long ago opted to roll with their aging stars, Rollins included, and they remain in win-now mode internally, whether or not those on the outside deem that goal to be realistic. Dealing Rollins out of Sandberg's doghouse might send a message that will have long-term impact in the clubhouse, but it would also conflict with the goal of eking one last blast of brilliance out of the current core.
Anyway, it's a moot point of discussion if Rollins doesn't want to leave, and he seemingly doesn't.
So Rollins will ultimately decide whether this Spring Training storyline exists beyond Spring Training. He can squash it with his bat, with his legs, with his glove and, yes, with his energy level. Rollins can become the kind of player Sandberg wants him to be, or he can simply be himself and hope that's good enough.
Either way, any "strong sentiment" toward moving Rollins is countered by the equally strong sentiment that the Phillies' options are limited. Their only real leverage, it seems, is on that lineup card, where Sandberg will make the daily decision on where or whether Rollins fits in.