Sunday, December 20, 2009

Risk/Reward of Scott Rolen's Restructured Deal

You see plenty of moves like this in football, but contract restructuring is not nearly as common in baseball. But yesterday, the Reds and Scott Rolen agreed to a restructured deal that will keep him in Cincinnati for the next three seasons:

The Cincinnati Reds and Scott Rolen have agreed to restructure the third baseman's contract to give the club more payroll flexibility for next season, has learned.

Rolen had been scheduled to make $11 million in 2010, the final season of the eight-year, $90 million extension he signed after being traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals in 2002.

Instead, under the terms of the new contract, Rolen will earn $6 million in 2010, plus a $5 million signing bonus that the sides agreed would be deferred without interest, according to a source who has seen the details of the agreement.

The club, in return, extended Rolen's contract two years, through 2012. He will earn $6.5 million in each of those two seasons.
On the surface, this looks like a wise deal for both the Reds and Scott Rolen. The Reds were looking to acquire payroll flexibility this winter and by restructuring Rolen's deal, the Reds will save $5 million dollars in 2010. In addition, because of these savings, perhaps the Reds don't have to aggressively shop guys like Harang and Arroyo solely for payroll relief. Hopefully, the Reds will hold onto their high priced players at least through the first few months of the season to give this team a chance to show it can win in 2010.

As for Rolen, he guarantees himself another two years and $12 million dollars simply by restructuring his deal, which could be a smart move given how players tend to decline once they reach his age (35 in April). Even if Rolen had a big season for the Reds in 2010, I don't think he would have gotten significantly more than 2 years/$12.5 million so it's not like he's leaving a boatload of money on the table here.

But on the field, this move has upside for the Reds. While Rolen is not the potent hitter he was at the beginning of his career, he can still hit some home runs, lots of doubles, and gets on base. But most importantly for the Reds, Rolen is still one of the best defensive third basemen around and even though his UZR is on the decline, Rolen still produced a fantastic 7.6 last season and 8.5 the year prior.

At the same time, was it smart for the Reds to commit to Rolen through 2012 instead of just letting his contract expire at the end of the year? While the deal will help the Reds in the short term, the long term implications of this deal make it a somewhat of a risk. As I mentioned before, Rolen is an aging player with declining numbers as a hitter and a fielder, so one has to wonder if that decline will continue and if Rolen will become nothing more than an average third baseman. In addition, Rolen does have a rather lengthy injury history and he has not played in more than 130 games in any season since 2006. That point has to be concerning for the Reds' front office.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) the Reds choose to spend the money the saved from the Rolen restructuring. One would have to think that the Reds would become more active on the free agent market if the Rolen deal is truly going to benefit them in the present. I have a hard time thinking that in 2012 we'll think that this deal was fantastic, but in the short term, it accomplished an important goal for the Reds and now gives them the opportunity (albeit a small one) to spend money on some players.

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