After feud in St. Louis, Rolen was ready for change
Offered a chance with a new team, Rolen sat down to discuss things with his family. Everyone soon agreed: Rolen would waive his no-trade clause and join the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal that sent Troy Glaus the other way.
"This is an opportunity we couldn't pass up," Rolen said Tuesday evening at an introductory press conference. "It's a great fresh start for me in my career, and my family."
Rolen and La Russa, the longtime Cardinals manager, have clashed since the 2006 playoffs, when La Russa benched the third baseman. Rolen requested a trade after last season.
La Russa, who signed a two-year contract extension in October, was still talking tough at the winter meetings in December, saying if Rolen played hard, he'd be in the lineup and if he didn't, he'd be on the bench.
"If he doesn't like it, he can quit," La Russa said.
Rolen joined the Cardinals in a midseason trade from Philadelphia in 2002 and helped St. Louis reach the World Series twice, falling to Boston in 2004 before beating Detroit in 2006.
"I don't regret the time I was there at all," Rolen said. "There were some unfortunate things that went on that aren't significant to me sitting on this podium in this uniform right now."
With Glaus bothered by heel and foot injuries aggravated by playing home games on turf, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi began inquiring about Rolen at the winter meetings. He said he was never put off by Rolen's feud with La Russa.
"This is a situation where a player had an incident with a manager," Ricciardi said. "It doesn't mean one is right and one is wrong. It just means sometimes you have to move on from it. I don't sit here and let one incident say this is what type of guy the player is."
Rolen doesn't intend to use his spat with La Russa as motivation.
"To go out and try to prove to somebody else, whatever your motives, I'm not sure if that's healthy," Rolen said. "I want to focus all my attention and my competition on the field. Too many times the last year, year-and-a-half, some of the focus was off the field instead of on the field, where it should stay."
A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Rolen's offense has declined since a collision with Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi in May 2005. The 32-year old missed 176 games due because of a lingering left-shoulder injury over the past three seasons.
Rolen had eight homers and 58 RBIs in 112 games last year, but said his tender left elbow hampered his swing until he was shut down on Aug. 31.
"I couldn't get the bat back where I needed to," he said. "That was my biggest problem. I was basically just diving at balls and trying to run into stuff. It was a pretty painful four months."
Rolen had season-ending surgery in September to clean up scar tissue and restore mobility and has since been cleared to resume hitting and fielding drills.
"I feel as good and as strong as I've been in the last three years, by far," he said. "I feel right now that I'm back where I wanted to be before all the destruction. I don't have any restrictions right now."
Rolen has three years and $36 million still left on an eight-year, $90 million deal he signed in 2003.
"There's a lot of things Scott can do that are going to help our club," Ricciardi said. "Defensively, he's one of the best. He's a good hitter, he hits right-handers really well. I think the power will come back, I think playing in this ballpark helps a little bit. Obviously, the whole deal was premised on the fact that we had good reports, medically, from several people. We wouldn't have done the deal if we didn't feel comfortable that way."
The trade to Toronto reunites Rolen with shortstop David Eckstein, who signed a two-year deal with the Blue Jays last month.
"It'll be nice to stay together and have a familiar face right away," Rolen said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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