Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand has been one of the few Phillies who have managed to stay healthy all season. At thirty-years old, Rowand is having a career year, batting .318 with 23 home runs and 78 RBI’s (to date). He’s on pace to set career highs in average, home runs, RBI’s, runs scored, hits, doubles, and walks. Ironically, Rowand happens to be a free agent at the end of the season. Rowand will be an attractive player to a lot of teams looking for a center fielder this off-season. He’s a gritty player who prides himself on his defense, always putting the play over his body (last season he broke his face running into a pole behind the wall after a spectacular catch). Besides his defense, he’s a clutch bat in the line up. Rowand is batting .307 with runners in scoring position, and .341 with two outs.
With his career season and pending free agency, the question is will the Phillies re-sign him at seasons end?
If you ask most Phillies fans, they figure that Rowand’s season has priced him out of Philadelphia. With Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley, and Corey Patterson all pending free agents, it’s figured Rowand will join this deep pool of pending free agent center fielders. Based on Rowand’s numbers and current salary, he’s most compared to the Diamondback’s, Eric Byrnes. Byrnes recently signed an extension for three years and $30 million, so that’s a rough estimate of what Rowand will be looking at, but that can quickly escalate once the ice is broken and the first free agent is signed. With Jones and Hunter looking for big payouts, Rowand will be one of the highest sought out outfielders on the market. You can bet the Rangers, White Sox, and Orioles will be lining up quickly for Rowand’s services.
One of the biggest knocks on Rowand is his age. At thirty-years old, this is Rowand’s peak season and his best years are behind him. While for some players that’s true, thirty isn’t exactly “old”, and some players do develop late. Orioles’ third baseman, Melvin Mora peaked at thirty-two, when he hit 27 home runs and batted .340. Even with his age, the risk would depend on the length of the contract. That is something the Phillies front office will have to weigh in approaching Rowand.
If Rowand does leave the 2008 outfield would most likely look like this – Pat Burrell would stay in left field, Shane Victorino would stay in right field, and Michael Bourn would take over in center field. A positive of starting Bourn in center field is it would give the Phillies to spend some of the money that would go to Rowand on pitching. With Bourn, the defense wouldn’t miss a beat. He would add speed to the lineup, but he cannot provide the offense and heart that Rowand brings to the table.
Phillies GM Pat Gillick doesn’t negotiate extensions during the season, and has chosen to address Rowand at seasons end. He has said the Phillies will do all it can to keep Rowand in Philadelphia. Comments like that sound like lip service, very non-committal. If the Phillies do want to keep Rowand, it’s important they resign him in the ten day window after the World Series. Once Rowand can file for free agency and hit’s the open market, it might be too late to keep the center fielder.
It is important that the Phillies find a way to keep Rowand. While Chase Utley is the team’s leader, Rowand is the heart and soul of this team. His “dirty-style” play is contagious, and gets the team working hard. Although Rowand has said he wants to stay in Philadelphia, feelings like that tend to change when a player is approached with a bag full of money.
Pat Gillick has taken a lot of shots from the press and the fans during his stay in Philadelphia. This is a move he cannot afford to mess up.