Here’s a history lesson.
In addition to having a career worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration, Scott Rolen almost certainly should be on the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame. In parts of seven seasons with the Phillies, Rolen homered 150 times, won the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year, was a National League All-Star in 2002 and won three Gold Glove Awards.
Rolen isn’t on the Wall of Fame because he left Philadelphia on less-than-ideal terms, and a large part of Wall of Fame voting is fan-driven.
In July of 2002, the Phillies traded Rolen and RHP Doug Nickle to the St. Louis Cardinals for second baseman Placido Polanco, RHP Mike Timlin and LHP Bud Smith.
The trade of Rolen came after he reportedly was uninterested in signing for offers to seven years and $90 million or 10 years and $140 million. Rolen, as noted by Murray Chass of The New York Times at the time, had reservations about the Phillies commitment to winning. He ended on poor terms with both general manager Ed Wade and manager Larry Bowa.
Ultimately, Rolen became one of the game’s elite players at his peak with the Cardinals. His 2004 season is one of the most well-rounded seasons of the last 20 years – he slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs, 124 RBIs and a staggering 9.0 fWAR, while winning one of his seven Gold Glove Awards. In a normal year, that would have won Rolen the National League MVP. At the back-end of the Steroid Era, Rolen only finished fourth in National League MVP voting, with Barry Bonds winning his final of seven National League MVP awards.
Despite an incredible peak with the Cardinals – including helping the team to win a World Series in 2006 – Rolen and manager Tony La Russa ultimately had a falling out, which led to him being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in January of 2008.
It’s crazy to think about the ramifications that a return to Philadelphia would have had.
The Phillies ultimately signed Pedro Feliz to a two-year deal to occupy the hot corner. While Feliz had perhaps the strongest arm of any third baseman in team history, Rolen is one of the five greatest defensive third basemen in baseball history and would have been a clear offensive upgrade over Feliz as well. That said, Feliz did drive in what proved to be the winning run in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.
At the time of the trade, Rolen had three years and $33 million remaining on a deal he had signed with the Cardinals. So not only could he have been on the 2008 team, but the 2009 Phillies, who won the National League pennant and the 2010 Phillies, who reached the NLCS for the third consecutive season.
In July of 2009, the Blue Jays ultimately traded Rolen to the Cincinnati Reds, taking back a package that included Edwin Encarnacion. In parts of eight seasons with the Blue Jays, Encarnacion made three All-Star teams and launched 239 home runs. Encarnacion never would have teamed up with Jose Bautista in Toronto if Rolen had been traded back to the Phillies ahead of the 2008 season.
In 2010, Rolen was an All-Star for a Reds team that won 91 games and the National League Central title. They ran into the Phillies in the NLDS, with Rolen going 0-3 with three strikeouts in Game 1 of the series, when future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay became the second pitcher in baseball history to throw a postseason no-hitter. He also was struck out by Cole Hamels to conclude Game 3 of the NLDS, as the Phillies swept the Reds.
Had Rolen returned to the Phillies ahead of the 2008 season, any ill will from his first tenure likely would have been forgotten, and he would have been viewed as a franchise icon. Instead, he’s viewed as one of the most complete ballplayers of the 2000s, who happened to begin his career in Philadelphia.
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