Revisiting the Rolen Trade

Scott Rolen was drafted in 1993 as a can’t miss prospect.  He was supposed to be the next great Phillies third baseman, and etch his name right next to Mike Schmidt in Philadelphia lore.

However, it didn’t turn out as planned.  This summer will mark a decade since the player who was supposed to save the Phillies franchise was traded.

Let’s take a trip back to 2002. Heading into the season, Scott Rolen was a three time Gold Glover in his first five full seasons with the club and won the Rookie of the Year in 1997.

2001 was Rolen’s first season with the Phillies that they finished over .500 after failing to post more than 77 wins in any of his previous seasons. It seemed like Rolen was going to be a key part of the Phillies revival.

However, he rejected a 10-year, $140 million contract offer from the Phillies in the offseason and instead signed a one-year, $8.6 million deal.

Rolen criticized management for failing to have a commitment to winning. He also butted heads with manager Larry Bowa. Despite these issues, he made the All-Star team for the first time in his career.

But he was still unhappy. He requested a trade, and on July 29, 2002, the unthinkable happened. The Phillies’ best player, all-star franchise player was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

At the time, general manager Ed Wade was roasted by Philadelphia fans for seemingly getting pennies on the dollar for its best player. Rolen calling St. Louis “baseball heaven” put more salt into the fans’ wound. But the fans couldn’t have imagined that this trade set in motion some of the greatest moments in franchise history.

The Phillies received third baseman Placido Polanco and relievers Mike Timlin and Bud Smith in the deal.

Polanco became a fan favorite before being traded to Detroit in 2005, but returned to the team in 2010.

Timlin only pitched 30 games for the Phillies in 2002, signing with Boston in the offseason.

Smith was a promising prospect, pitching a no-hitter as a rookie in 2001. But he was never able to get past AAA in two and a half seasons with the Phillies organization. Compared to Rolen, who was in his prime, the return was awful.

The offseason after Rolen was dealt changed the face of the franchise forever.

The front office used the money previously allocated for Rolen to sign first baseman Jim Thome, third baseman David Bell and traded for starting pitcher Kevin Millwood.

Bell and Millwood didn’t work out as well as everyone had hoped, but the three deals proved the Phillies were done being cheap and considered themselves major players in free agency. They did exactly what Rolen wanted them to do: have a commitment to winning.

Thome turned into Aaron Rowand via trade and Rowand brought his 2005 World Series experience to the Phillies. Even though he didn’t win another title here, he made his mark on the young players such as Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

The rest is history and while Rolen won a World Series in 2006 with St. Louis, the Phillies won one of their own two years later. Since leaving the Phillies, Rolen struggled to stay healthy, averaging 116 games over nine full seasons. While his batting average stayed constant, most of his offensive categories (HR, RBI, SB) declined.

Without Rolen requesting a trade, who knows if the Phillies would have opened their wallets like they did and changed the culture of the club.  It took a few years to figure out the right combination of players to win a World Series, but eventually they got it right.

The trade may not have been the most fair, but it worked out for the Phillies quite nicely.

The idea behind the post originated from a similar post about the Flyers and Eric Lindros.


1 thought on “Revisiting the Rolen Trade

  1. […] Because as was written on this site earlier in the year and in Todd Zolecki’s and Jim Salisbury’s book “The Rotation”, Rolen was one of the main reasons the Phillies changed their stance on how they build a championship team. […]

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