- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Toronto manager John Gibbons had a couple of highly-publicized blowouts with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly two years ago. But if you talk to people around the team, they'll tell you Gibbons is a "player's manager" who creates a comfortable environment for his guys.
That's a good thing for Scott Rolen -- the Blue Jays acquired the third baseman in exchange for Troy Glaus on Saturday -- because Toronto's newest addition doesn't have a particularly good track record with authoritarian types.
Rolen's relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa -- always dicey -- reached six-alarm fire status when La Russa went on a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness rant at the winter meetings in early December. The minute La Russa shared the news that his personal rift with Rolen was driving him "nuts," it was only a matter of time.
After trade talks with the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and other clubs stagnated, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak found a willing taker in the Blue Jays, who think Rolen has enough of an all-around game to make them an even more serious threat to the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League East in 2008.
Rolen is a seven-time Gold Glove winner, and if his shoulder is healthy (admittedly a big "if"), he'll give Toronto a major upgrade defensively.
Toronto ranked 13th in the league with a .715 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) against right-handed pitching last season. Rolen is a .284 career hitter against righties -- compared to .244 for Glaus -- so he should help the Jays in that regard.
Rolen's former St. Louis buddy, David Eckstein, recently signed a one-year deal to play shortstop for Toronto, so the Jays won't have to spend much time building synergy on the left side in spring training.
And although the three years and $33 million left on Rolen's contract scared off some clubs, the commitment fits right in with Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi's timetable. The Blue Jays are built to win over the next three seasons, with Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, Alex Rios, Lyle Overbay and B.J. Ryan all tied up contractually through 2010 or beyond, and now the team won't have to fill a potentially gaping hole at third base.
Glaus, who hit 58 homers in two seasons with Toronto, is under contract for $12.75 million this year with an $11.5 million player option for 2009. But the Blue Jays had legitimate reason to wonder if Glaus might pass on the option and leave town next winter. Glaus has foot problems that necessitated surgery in September, and the combination of plantar fasciitis and the artificial turf in Toronto was kind of scary.
The Blue Jays don't have a third baseman in the pipeline, and next winter's free-agent crop consists of Joe Crede, Casey Blake and not much else. Once the Rolen trade goes through, Ricciardi won't have to worry about overpaying for Crede (and playing phone tag with Scott Boras) or combing through the bargain bin for a Plan B.
As for Glaus, it remains to be seen if the switch to natural grass will have the desired effect on his health. But Glaus did hit 37 homers in his last National League go-round with Arizona in 2005, so, if healthy, he provides a bona fide middle-of-the-order complement to Albert Pujols . The Cardinals have also signed Cesar Izturis to play shortstop, so they're better equipped to cope with Glaus' lack of range.
Given the medical histories, there's an inherent risk in the trade for both clubs. But the deal made enough sense all around for both Glaus and Rolen to waive their no-trade clauses. Now the only remaining obstacle is physical exams on Monday.
After that, presumably, Rolen will revel in the change of scenery. For all his reported problems with Larry Bowa in Philadelphia and La Russa in St. Louis, Rolen plays hard, sweats the details and burns to win. He also got along just fine with Terry Francona during his early years in Philly. If Rolen is finally over his shoulder trouble, a fresh start in a new country might be just what the doctor ordered.
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