The Dodgers need a short-term shortstop, as you may have heard.
No, they won’t replace Hanley Ramirez’s offense, but they can [and will] upgrade defensively to make up for some of his value. Some of the remaining free agent shortstops on the market include Everth Cabrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew, and Jed Lowrie; none of which seem too appealing to the Dodgers. The trade market includes Alexei Ramirez, likely too pricey, as the White Sox are attempting to contend next year; Troy Tulowitzki, who simply isn’t a fit for the Dodgers based on his injury history and the fact that the Rockies are asking for a king’s ransom; and an interesting wildcard: Jimmy Rollins.
Yes, Rollins just turned 36, but he’s still a very good baseball player. Last season, he played in 138 games and has averaged 149 games since the 2011 season, proving he’s still a very durable player. This past season, he slashed .243/.323/.394/.717 in 609 plate appearances, good enough for a 102 wRC+ (Weight Runs Created Plus). He stole 28 bases in 34 attempts, proving he’s still an adequate base-stealer, as well. He’s still slightly above average offensively, but his true value at this point is his defensive ability. His UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) was a solid 3.7, rebounding from a poor 2013 season in which he posted a -2.7 UZR. In addition to that, FanGraphs gave him a defensive rating of 9.5, the 6th-best amongst qualified shortstops. To put that in perspective, Hanley’s defensive rating of -6.1 was the 2nd-worst, only besting Yunel Escobar’s -11.0 rating. Overall, Rollins was worth 3.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), making him the 4th-most valuable [qualified] shortstop in the game last season. Hanley was tied for 5th with 3.4 WAR, mainly because of his poor defense.
David Vassegh of AM 570 KLAC tweeted today that Rollins would waive his no-trade clause to join the Dodgers, which eliminates half the battle. Now the real test: putting together a trade with the stubborn Ruben Amaro Jr. Amaro has been criticized nationally over the last few months for asking too much in trades for his aging players. While we don’t know what other teams have offered, it is clear he wants something valuable in return, and not just a filler-type minor league player. Rollins is in the last year of a four-year contract and is slated to earn only $11 million next season, which is fair value in the current market. I imagine the Dodgers would only have to eat about half of that salary, as the Phillies are primarily looking for prospects in their rebuilding effort. A few names that come to mind are Chris Reed and Scott Schebler, ranked 8th and 9th respectively on MLB.com’s 2014 Prospect Watch for the Dodgers. Both of them for one year of Rollins might seem like an overpay, but it’s worth it if Rollins comes close to duplicating his 2014 season.
Let’s face it, do you really want Miguel Rojas or Erisbel Arruebarrena starting at shortstop on Opening Day? Nobody in the free agent market jumps out as a “must-sign”, and they’re not trading for a long-term shortstop like Tulowitzki, so the best solution is acquiring Rollins on his short, cheap contract and hope that he continues being productive on both sides of the ball for the 2015 season. And according to his Steamer projection, he will be.