Monday, July 29, 2002

'I've Died and Gone to Heaven... ' Phillies Deal 'Excited' Scott Rolen to St. Louis

After months of speculation, tons of rumors and lots of innuendo, the Phillies have finally traded Scott Rolen. Once viewed as the rightful heir to Mike Schmidt's throne at third base and as the cornerstone of a franchise on the way up, Rolen left town after an acrimonious season-and-a-half where the luster was chipped away from the city's one-time golden boy.

And Rolen, as stated in an interview with ESPN.com's Peter Gammons, could not be happier about the trade.

"I felt," he said to Gammons upon hearing the news about the trade on Monday night, "as if I'd died and gone to heaven. I'm so excited that I can't wait to get on the plane (Tuesday morning) and get to Florida to join the Cardinals."

For Rolen, Triple-A reliever Doug Nickle and an undisclosed amount of cash, the Phillies have obtained infielder Placido Polanco, lefthanded pitcher Bud Smith and reliever Mike Timlin, general manager Ed Wade announced in a spare conference room in the bowels of Veterans Stadium on Monday.

But more than receiving three players in return for the game's best defensive third baseman, the Phillies have ended a once-happy marriage that seemed destined to end with a ceremony in Cooperstown and his No. 17 hung on a commemorative disc beyond the outfield wall.

Instead, it ended in a soap-operatic mess filled with more whispered back-biting than an episode of Dynasty. With the dust finally clearing, the Phillies have lost their best player and receive a lefthanded pitcher in Smith who threw a Major League no-hitter last Sept. 3 but is still only in Triple-A, a one-time closer in Timlin who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season and might again be dealt before the season ends and an infielder in Polanco who is more akin to line-drive hitting Marlon Anderson than the powerful Rolen.

And it marks the second time since 2000 that the Phillies have lost a player worth the price of a season ticket. Almost two years to the day, Wade dealt Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa. Since the deal, Schilling has won a ring and composed a 45-14 record.

Once Spring Training was in full swing, Wade knew Rolen was not going to be a Phillie in 2003.

"I knew in Spring Training that we had a zero chance to get anything done," Wade said.

In brokering the deal, Wade admits that the Phillies are giving up a lot, but he's more interested in the players the team has now opposed to the players they once had.

"We did not replace Scott Rolen with an All-Star, Gold Glove third baseman, but we did replace him with a very good baseball player, and we got some other guys who should help us,'' Wade said.

In adding Rolen, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty believes his club has added the piece of the puzzle needed to finish off the rest of the NL Central. With a five-game lead over the second-place Cincinnati Reds, Rolen not only picks up a lot of ground in the standings, but also seems slated for his first-ever appearance in the playoffs. This fact should satisfy Rolen, who said during a cantankerous press conference at the beginning of spring training that the Philles were not committed to winning.

"We are very pleased and excited to add Scott Rolen to our lineup," Jocketty said in a statement. "He is an All-Star, a proven run producer and an excellent defensive player."

In a quickly assembled press conference in which only Wade spoke, the GM broke down his side of the negotiations and relayed Rolen's feelings about the deal. After returning to Philadelphia from Atlanta where Rolen belted a home run in a victory over the Braves (wearing a throwback, powder-blue Phils uniform, no less) on Sunday, the new Red Bird was trying to figure out how to get to Miami where he will make his debut against the Marlins on Tuesday.

"He said he appreciated the opportunity and the organization and wondered where he goes from here and how he gets there," Wade said. "He was fairly single-minded in getting his gear and getting on an airplane and making sure that he was with the Cardinals in Florida in time for the game [Tuesday]."

Like Rolen's last season in Philadelphia, Wade said the negotiations with the Cardinals were quite tempestuous with each club making concessions. According to Wade, trade talks between the Cardinals and Phillies broke down without a deal at 11 p.m. in Sunday night and that as of Monday afternoon, the Phils were currently negotiating a deal with an unnamed team until the Cardinals jumped back into the fray.

"We were one phone call away from Scott not being a Cardinal and going somewhere else," said Wade.

The Phillies' GM faced the prospect of getting nothing for his star if Rolen stayed in Philadelphia. If the new basic agreement between players and owners includes a redesign of the the First-Year Player Draft, it's possible that it will eliminate compensatory draft picks for teams that lose free agents.

"At some point you have to say the deal that sits in front of me is good enough that it outweighs gambling that something better is going to be out there 48 hours from now," said Wade. "The players were right."

According to Wade, the deal was finalized at 5 p.m. on Monday and was announced officially at 6:30 p.m. With Monday being an off day in the National League, all players will be with their respective teams by Tuesday. Smith will report to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will start either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Still, Wade says the deal occurred because the Phillies were very aggressive. Some teams, he claims, "moved out of the process because of the ebb and flow of the labor situation." He categorized the Cardinals as one of those teams as well as six others that he claims he was talking to.

Rolen had been the subject of trade rumors after deciding not to negotiate on a multi-year extension that Wade categorized on Monday as a "lifetime deal." The Phillies report that they were anticipating giving Rolen a 10-year contract extension last November that could've been worth up to $140 million. Rolen ended up signing an $8.6 million, one-year deal in January that kept him and the Phillies away from an arbitration hearing, but made it clear he wanted to become a free agent after this season. That decision forced the Phillies to make a move or risk losing him for nothing.

"I regret the outcome," Wade said. "We were very serious about the offer we made and when that didn't work out we tried to get him to sign a two-year guaranteed contract with player options. We regret the outcome but don't regret the way we approached him."

In reality, the Phillies never offered the 10-years and $140 million they keep touting. Instead, it the guaranteed portion of the offer was six years, $72 million. The deal stretched to 10 years and to $140 million only if one included all the options and incentives and buy-outs in the package, all structured in the club's behalf.

Surely it's not a deal to sneeze at, but nowhere close to the "lifetime" contract Wade and his minions keep throwing out there.

Art of the Deal
Rolen did not sign an extension with the Cardinals, so he remains eligible for free agency. However, when rumors reached fervor on Saturday, Rolen said he would be interested in signing a contract extension with the Cardinals.

About signing, potentially, with the Cardinals, Rolen said on Saturday that the Red Birds were one of the teams he would consider.

"We all know that is a situation I'd be willing to talk about," Rolen said on Saturday.

On Monday, he was a lot less ambiguous with his comments as told to Gammons. Growing up in Jasper, Ind., Rolen says he went to two parks as a kid — St. Louis and Cincinnati.

"I was there at Busch with my dad, sitting in the stands wherever we could get a seat, watching Ozzie Smith," Rolen said. "It may be the best place to play in the game, and it's the place I always dreamed of playing.

"As I said, I've gone to heaven."

And dropping him in the middle of the Cardinals' powerful lineup looks like hell for opposing pitchers. When the Cardinals come to the Vet on Aug. 16 for a three-game set, Rolen should bat fifth in a lineup that looks something like this:

Fernando Vina, 2b
Edgar Renteria, ss
Jim Edmonds, cf
Albert Pujols, lf
Rolen, 3b
J.D. Drew, rf
Tino Martinez, 1b
Mike Matheny, c

Signing potential free agents hasn't been a problem for the Cardinals, who play in front of well-mannered fans in a baseball-crazy city. In the last five years, the Cardinals traded for potential free agents Jim Edmonds and Mark McGwire and convinced them to stay in St. Louis long-term.

However, while Wade says there were numerous suitors all clamoring for Rolen's services, ComcastSportsNet.com sources indicate otherwise. According to one well-placed baseball executive, if a deal with the Cardinals wasn't consummated, Rolen would still be wearing the red-and-white Phillie pinstripes.

"I really searched for another team that was interested and I couldn't find one," the source says. "The Phillies were trying to create a market for Rolen that didn't exist."

Originally, rumors circled that the Phillies were going to receive Double-A prospect Jimmy Journell, who is rated as the Cardinals' top up-and-comer by Baseball America. However, a source says that Journell was never part of any deal. Instead, the source says, the Cardinals were not going to make a deal with the Phillies unless Timlin — a free agent when the season ends — was included in the deal.

But Wade says it was Smith who was the "deal buster."

"He was the key part of the deal," Wade said.

Like the other rumors, it was reported that a deal with another club would not occur if the Phillies had to pay the remainder of Rolen's contract or if he couldn't work out a contract extension with an interested club.

Not at all true.

"I wish I kept a list of all the misinformation," Wade said.

The Players
Polanco, 26, is hitting .284 with five homers and 27 RBIs. He batted .307 last season and .316 in his first full year, in 2000. Wade said he'd play third base and bat second in the Phillies' lineup against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

Polanco is a slick fielder who plays three infield positions and leads third basemen in fielding chances. However, he has played too many games at short and second to qualify for the league lead. A prototypical contact hitter, Polanco has struck out just 26 times in 92 games this season.

Smith, who pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season last year, was sent to Triple-A Memphis on July 20 after going 1-5 with a 6.94 ERA in 11 appearances, including 10 starts. The 22-year-old lefthander was 6-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 games last year.

In his last outing in the big leagues on July 19, Smith allowed eight runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Pirates.

Smith is best compared to Randy Wolf.

"He's a surplus prospect," Wade said.

Timlin is 1-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 42 appearances and is holding righties to a .197 average. The 36-year-old righthander is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $5.25 million this season. In 1996 he saved 31 games for the Toronto Blue Jays and has saved 114 games during his 11-year Major League career. However, this season he has blown two saves working primarily in middle relief.

Timlin won two World Series' with the Blue Jays and appeared in two games of the 1993 series against the Phillies.

Nickle, 27, was 3-5 with a 2.97 ERA and seven saves in 34 games — one of them a start — at Scranton this season. He appeared in four games — 4 1/3 innings pitched — for the Phillies this season and has made 10 career major-league appearances.

Glory Days
When Scott Rolen came to Philadelphia as a fresh-faced 21-year old, he was too good to be true. He played hard, possessed Midwestern, homespun values and spoke about fair play and hard work. If he was going to do something, he said, he was going to do it all out and to win.

Philadelphia fans immediately latched onto the quiet kid from Jasper, Ind.

After winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997, Rolen signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the idea that he was going to be a Phillie for life. In fact, Rolen signed for far less than he could have gotten because he believed the Phillies were on the right path and he was enamored with the idea that he was going to be like his kindred spirit, Mike Schmidt, and spend his entire career in Philadelphia.

But all those losing seasons caught up with Rolen. So too did the firing of mild-mannered manager Terry Francona, who is a close friend of Rolen's. Meanwhile, Rolen's quiet nature in a city full of loud and sometimes abrasive sports fans, wore thin on both sides. Sensitive and thoughtful, Rolen chose to do his talking on the field or in the clubhouse — nowhere else. Philly fans wanted their rough-and-tumble athletes' personas to translate to a give-and-take relationship with the city that Rolen was not willing to have. His family (and his dogs, Enis and Emma) came first and nothing else was a close second.

When prodigal son and fan-favorite Larry Bowa was hired as the team's skipper, many speculated when he and his sensitive third baseman would clash. It didn't take long.

In June of 2001 during a series against Tampa Bay, Bowa told the Philadelphia Daily News that Rolen's recent futility at the plate was "killing us." Rolen took the criticism not as constructive but intended to embarrass him and had it out with the manager before a game against the Devil Rays.

"I came in here with the intent of kicking your ass," Rolen reportedly told Bowa as he walked into the manager's office that day.

Their relationship remained strained ever since and the soap opera began in earnest.

Later that year, Phillies executive assistant and manager of the hard-boiled manager of 1980 World Championship team, Dallas Green, told a radio station that Rolen was OK with being a "so-so" player and that his personality would not allow him to be a great player.

After the season, Rolen summed up the 2001 campaign as the worst he ever went through and cited Bowa and Green as the main culprits in his dissatisfaction. His ire manifested itself during an edgy press conference to kick off spring training.

There, Rolen held a press conference to explain why he opted for free agency questioning what he thought was the team's commitment to winning.

"Philadelphia is the [fourth-largest] market in the game, and I feel that for the last however long, the organization has not acted like it," Rolen said in February. "There's a lack of commitment to what I think is right."

Rolen pointed out that the Phillies, who entered the season with a payroll around $60 million that ranks in the bottom third of all Major League franchises, were notorious for allowing players of star quality walk away when their contracts are about to expire. It happened two seasons ago with Curt Schilling and he wasn't so sure it was going to stop now, he said.

"Part of my whole problem is that I look around and see Bobby Abreu, I see Pat Burrell, I see Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal and this is the core that's been talked about for three or four years," Rolen said then. "These are unbelievable ballplayers. But three years from now, when everybody becomes a free agent or arbitration-eligible and it's time to re-sign everybody, I want to turn around and see Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal. To me, what history shows, I will not be able to do that."

Not unless they are playing for the Cardinals.

What followed over the next six weeks were a few public discussions with Bowa and a miserable slump in May and June that turned his .284 April into a .240 average by the end of May. In June, an unnamed teammate reportedly called Rolen a "cancer" and that his status was a distraction to the team.

However, things haven't been all bad for Rolen this season. He started in his first-ever All-Star Game and is on pace to drive in over 100 runs for the second year in a row and third time of his career and belt 25 homers for the fifth season in a row.

But the constant circus around his future was starting to drain him, he told Gammons.

"I think I must have been asked more questions than the rest of the team combined," Rolen said. "It was crazy. In spring training, all the way back to the winter, it was that way. Before the All-Star break, I know I was a little down. I shouldn't have been, but having people leaning on both my shoulders all the time drained me.

"People would tell me that I needed to be more selfish, to play for numbers. But that's not the way I know how to play. I'm not good at playing for numbers, I'm not good at playing for myself. To go from last place to first is more than I ever could have dreamed."

The Future
Even with Polanco in the fold, Wade says the Phillies go into the offseason in a position they haven't been familiar with in almost a decade.

"We go into the offseason for the first time in nine years potentially looking for a third baseman," Wade said.

For now, Wade says his concern is to build for the future and not look into the past that saw superstars Curt Schilling and now Rolen leave amidst acrimony.

"I don't think we did anything to necessarily make the player unhappy,'' Wade said. "We're always trying to do things the right way. We're always trying to make our players comfortable. We're always trying to compensate them fairly. We're always trying to bring teammates around that they are comfortable playing with and gives us a better chance of winning.''

He certainly has given Rolen that chance now ... problem is, it isn't in Philadelphia.

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