CLEARWATER, Fla. — An older, wiser Jimmy Rollins has ditched his annual rite of spring: Trading trash talk with National League East counterparts.
But as the new-look Philadelphia Phillies prepare for the season after seeing their five-year reign atop the division end in 2012, Rollins isn’t conceding anything either. The longtime shortstop remains confident in the talented nucleus assembled here.
“Everybody is in the right mind frame,” Rollins said. “We’re a complete team. We’re not going out there with role players. We’re going out there with everyday players, every game.”
Rollins, 34, was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in 1996 in the midst of the organization’s 13-year playoff drought. But prior to the 2007 season, Rollins famously declared a young-and-upcoming Phillies squad “the team to beat.”
The Phillies made good on Rollins words. They chased down the New York Mets in September and won the division on the final day of the regular season. They then went on a tear that resulted in two World Series appearances, and one title.
Rollins, in 2007, won National League MVP, but that was six years ago. Many of the names in the clubhouse have changed since then. And those that remain — Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels — are not in the same point in their careers.
Last season offered proof. The Phillies finished 81-81, to post their first non-winning season in 10 years. But they also didn’t play a single game in the first half with Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay healthy at the same time. All three missed large chunks of the season with injuries.
With all three healthy this year — and the additions the Phillies made this winter, too — Rollins thinks the team can once again be a contender.
“We did what we needed to do (in the offseason),” Rollins said. “We just needed to fill a couple of holes and get the other guys back healthy, and we’ve done that. (Relief pitcher Mike) Adams is going to be huge from what he’s done, and being able to continue that, it’s going to be great. Mikey Young, he’s just a professional hitter. The little man out in center field, Tootsie Pop, Ben Revere, he’s going to bring that energy. Shane (Victorino) left, and we’ve got a guy who can come in and steal bags, so we don’t miss a beat there.
“It’s different, but it’s a great dynamic what we have now. It’s a good feeling. As you can see, it’s nice and calm. Last year, everybody was uncertain. There’s a lot more certainty around here.”
Rollins may have retired his panache for making bold statements. But it wasn’t all that long ago that he made one worth remembering.
After the Phillies finished the 2012 season in Washington, Rollins said the Nationals, who won the division, would have been a second-place team if the Phillies were healthy. Rollins isn’t reliving the past, but he’s also hasn’t lost faith in his team’s ability to return to the top of the division.