Replaced by a Franchise Hero: Desi Relaford

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Fri, December 28, 2012 07:00 AM | Comments: 19
History, Posts, Replaced By a Franchise Hero


Relaford was a top prospect with the Mariners. He was replaced by an even higher regarded prospect in Rollins.

We continue our series of exploring the careers of the guys who were replaced by our favorites by taking a look at Desi Relaford, who was replaced by Jimmy Rollins.

The Hero

Sitting fourth all-time in franchise history in hits (only 210 behind first place Mike Schmidt), third in runs, second in doubles (just 21 behind Ed Delahanty), fourth in triples, third in steals, and 11th in HRs, Rollins is perhaps the most underrated player in Phillies history. He has compiled offensive stats at a rate that is good enough to quietly sneak him in the conversation of Best Shortstop of His Era, but not win: from 2000 to 2012, Rollins has accumulated more fWAR than any player to play shortstop not named Derek Jeter.

While his offense has been very good, .270/.328/.432, his defense and his base-running truly put him in the elite class of all-times Phillies players. His 403 steals from 2000-2012 rank second among shortstops and the 79.2 runs he created on the base paths are tops among shortstops in that time period. And while Gold Glove awards have turned into awards based on reputation, Rollins has four of them, and has saved the Phillies 40.8 runs with his glove in his time here.

What I, and many others, remember Rollins for, however, was 2007. Rollins famously declared preseason that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East and not the New York Mets, who were a ninth inning Yadier Molina homer and a run of their own away from reaching the World Series just the year before. The Phillies finished just three games behind the Dodgers for the Wild Card after a late charge led by 2006 MVP Ryan Howard. Rollins’ moxy, or swag as the kids call it now, seemed a little shortsighted at the time. The Mets had pitching, hitting, a bullpen, and defense. The Phillies were banking on Rollins, Howard, Chase Utley, who was just coming into his own, a few promising arms, and not much else.

Rollins hit .335/.371/.589 with six doubles, five triples, and eight home runs in the last 34 games of 2007 to lead the Phillies to a 23-11 mark, erase a 7.5 game Mets division lead, and got the Phils to their first playoff appearance and division title since 1993. Rollins’ whirlwind stretch run helped him overtake Matt Holliday and David Wright for the 2007 NL MVP award and earned him a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and MVP award, the first and only Phillie ever to do so. While the Phillies were bounced in three in Colorado, J-Rol and the Fightins rebounded in 2008 and brought home the second championship in Phillies history.

The Incumbent

Relaford came to the Phillies midway through the 1996 season in a trade for Terry Mulholland, a deal that was half-salary dump, half first stages of rebuild. The Mariners paid a steep price for Mulholland, who was a solid, dependable starter who was paid appropriately. Relaford was number 89 and 92 in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects in 1995 and 1996 respectively, and had already earned a spot in Triple-A Tacoma by his age 22 season. Despite a less-than-impressive run there, followed by a less-than-impressive run in Scranton, Relaford was called up when rosters expanded in September and hit .175/.233/.225 for the Phils in 44 PA.

Relaford would again receive a September call-up in 1997 before winning the starting shortstop job outright in Spring Training 1998. Relaford’s acquisition made Kevin Stocker expendable, who was turned into Bobby Abreu in a trade with the Devil Rays. Relaford played parts of five seasons with the Phillies, putting up an unimpressive .234/.315/.328 with below average defense and baserunning. Relaford was worth -1.5 WAR in 320 games for the Phillies.

The Results

Much like yesterday’s Schmidt-for-Don Money trade off, this one paid off pretty well. The Phillies swapped out an underachieving prospect who still had enough value to be traded for a warm body (David Newhan) and gave a player who succeeded in the high minors with a better pedigree a shot to play. Rollins was an All-Star in his rookie season, and in three out of his first five, and the Phillies never had to look back.

How Hard Was the Decision to Replace the Incumbent?

This one may surprise you. While yesterday’s subject, Money, was beginning a pretty decent career, and ended up racking up a few All-Star nods of his own, Relaford did not, but he came to Philadelphia in a pretty shrewd trade with an impressive pedigree. Relaford ranked 89 and 92 in the 1995 and 1996 Baseball America Top 100 rankings and had shot up all the way to Triple-A by age 21. At 22, he struggled at Seattle’s Triple-A Tacoma and was then traded to Philadelphia for Mulholland, who was the highest paid pitcher not named Curt Schilling on the club. In a half-salary dump, half-talent acquisition maneuver, the Phillies got rid of payroll as they prepared to rebuild and acquired a player who could make Kevin Stocker expendable.

Relaford had three years of team control left when the Phillies traded him 2000 and let Alex Arias briefly take over before calling up J-Rol. While Relaford never shocked the world on defense, he never failed the eye test either, and, at age 26, there was always hope that his numbers would one day match his low minors numbers. With the benefit of seeing what the Phillies got for Relaford, Newhan (.176/.263/.176 in 19 PA for the Phils in 2000), he likely was more valuable to the Phillies than he was to other teams, trade-wise.

In part time roles, Relaford would post 2.3 and 1.9 WAR in 2001 and 2002 for the Mets and Mariners respectively, hitting .284/.351/.421 over 710 PA. Thankfully, Rollins, in his age 22 and 23 seasons, put up 2.0 WAR and 2.6 WAR and a .260/.315/.400 line of his own across 1425 PA and made trading Relaford a non-issue. Rollins had a pedigree of his own, ranking 95 in 2000 and 31 in 2001 in Baseball America’s Top 100 – had he not succeeded right away and Relaford had the same success he did, there may have been a messy situation among Phillies’ fans. While this one looks cut and dry with the benefit of hindsight, Rollins’ superior play out of the gate overshadowed Relaford’s immediate successes once he changed addresses and made a tough decision look not only easy, but like the right decision.

Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

About Ian Riccaboni

Ian Riccaboni has written 848 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ian's athletic achievements include getting stuffed by NBA center Aaron Gray in high school and hitting .179 over four years for NYU against D-III, NAIA, JuCo, and NCBA schools. Ian hopes his athletic successes will help him achieve his dream of becoming the underground Bob Uecker.

  • Posts: 0 Bill

    Great article about Jimmy Rollins. I get sick of people not appreciating how good he really is. Yes there are times that he is frustrating, but Rollins has been a steady contributor for the Phillies and is a big part of their success over the past 6 years or so.


    • Posts: 0 Ryne Duren

      yes bill i agree with you! and i have to confess that i am one of the people you refer to. and that is most likely from the frustrating part that you refered to. yes he’s a frustration to me only because i realised a long time ago just how much talent he has. part of my frustration is the fact that he goes on these dry spells for such long periods of time. but when he’s on? wow he’s fun to watch. maybe i’m being selfish wanting him to be really great instead of pretty damn good.lol the facts are the facts though, and when he’s done playing, he deserves all the accolades he gets for the numbers and the time he’s been here. and when the time comes for him to be elligable for the hall? well i’m ready to eat the biggest crow in the world. and as frustrated as i have been with him over the years he still brings excitement whenever he approaches the plate and i truly hope he gets in! specially as a phillie for his whole career!
      i hope you don’t feel as sick now bill! lol happy upcoming new year.

  • Posts: 0 Tom Gaitens

    Yes, awesome job…
    I love his game…he is steady and consistent…we were so fortunate to see him come along. Interestingly, look at the other CLUBS and the assortment of SS coming and going…a HALL of FAME career for the man!

  • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

    While this article does touch upon Rollins’ greatness (and I don’t use that term lightly – at this point, Rollins chances of ending in in Cooperstown are as good, if not better than Chase Utley’s), it’s about much more than that. Trading for Relaford opened the door for Bobby Abreu and while Relaford wasn’t great, he kept the position warm for Rollins and allowed the two to unite (and allowed the Phillies to commit to their youth). It’s interesting… in hindsight, the Desi Relaford for Terry Mulholland deal is probabaly the unofficial start of the rebuilding phase (Mulholland was one of the few faces that anyone actually knew from those mid-90′s teams). Maybe I’m being a little over-sentimental, but in that light, the Relaford/Mulholland trade laid the foundation for the golden age in Phillies franchise history.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    Get a grip people. alan trammel had a better career and won just as many WS.
    Still not in.
    The player Rollins most mirrors today is Jay Bell. Is he a hall of famer?

    I suppose that down the road 20 or 30 years from now someone may put him in the hall just going on the pure bulk of his stats at a non offensive position.
    But thats what the old timers commitee does.

    Google Ray Schalk.

    For what its worth all of my “heros” run to first base every time.
    I will say that Jimmy does have more of a shot than Utley.
    But thats not saying alot.

    Lou Whittaker also isnt in and Utley isnt near him career wise.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Rollins is borderline at best.

      You’re right, when Bell finished at age 37, he had similar stats to what Rollins has now at 33. But by the time he finishes, Rollins will have:

      2500-2900 hits — only 9 SS in history have 2600
      500-600 doubles — 5 SS in history have 500
      240-300 homers — 5 SS in history have 240
      450-550 steals — 8 SS in history have 450

      Again, he will have a hard time, especially until Trammel gets in (if he ever does), but he does have some positives.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        The point of my comments wasn’t to idolize Rollins, I’ll get into Rollins because that is what gets people all jiggly…

        Rollins is borderline at best but shouldn’t he be able to get support on a Phillies Fan Site? Isn’t that the primary responsibility of being a fan – to root, root, root for our home team? If this was NY – if Rollins was a Yankee – he would get more support as a potential Hall of Famer and that is a sad indictment on our fan base… Philadelphia fans, in general, are pathetic when it comes to stuff like this. We would rather run guys out of town and call them bums than applaud them for good careers.

      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        “If this was NY – if Rollins was a Yankee – he would get more support as a potential Hall of Famer and that is a sad indictment on our fan base… ”

        What NY players get that momentum off boderline status?

        I don’t see David Cone getting outrageous, crazy support.

        In fact, I’d venture to say that closer to the truth is that Jimmy is perceived with more appreciation in Philly than he is nationally despite the constant debates on him out of Philly conversations. I don’t think it was different with Reyes his last yearwith the Mets. There was both a loit of pro and con opinion on keeping him and his worth. Cliff Lee never pitched for either NY team, and they sure as hell show him a lot of respect.

      • Posts: 904 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        @OCP: “Rollins is borderline at best but shouldn’t he be able to get support on a Phillies Fan Site? Isn’t that the primary responsibility of being a fan – to root, root, root for our home team?”

        Yes, of course he should get our support. That doesn’t mean we can’t also try to be realistic about his chances of actually being voted in.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        Maybe not as much anymore but the Yankee bias does exist… Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing… nowadays, let’s go onto a Yankees site and ask them what they think about Bernie Williams’ and Jorge Posada’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    Utley wont get to 1600 career hits.

    Who is talking about him in the HOF?
    He is at 0.00% chance at making the HOF. Ever. Through any committee.

    Ok I got my chuckle.

    Happy new year all.
    See you first week of April.

    Howard is a lock first ballot HOFer

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Utley had the best 8-year stretch of any second baseman of the past 50 years who isn’t named Joe Morgan. Better than Biggio, Sandberg, Alomar, etc.

      But you’re right — he does not have the counting stats to get serious consideration.

      • Posts: 0 Dean Wheeler

        They aren’t selecting HOF players based on a relatively small sample size…just ask Dale Murphy.

    • Posts: 0 Ryne Duren

      i couldn’t agree more. utley will end up in my hall of fame, but not baseballs hall. as far as howard goes? i still have the jury out on him! he’s got some big time catching up to do for the past couple of years. can he do it? i don’t know. but i’m not betting on it. i wish he would for all our sake though.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from WaIdorf

    I have a low self esteem so I try to feel superior to other people by using terms such as “get a grip people” before delving into my typical troll behaviour. Blah blah blah blah. See how superiour I really am to everyone here on the internets???

    • Posts: 0 Ryne Duren

      that was good man. i love reading your stuff! you are a fun guy, troll or no troll. and when i say fun guy i don’t mean it in the sense of fungi! and i don’t think you’re a troll you just have an opinion like all of us. untill our gov. shuts our free speech down. keep on buddy.

      • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

        That is an imposter!
        But like they say you havent made it until you have one.

        Some get it some dont.

        My “talking” points tend to be accurate though.

        Happy new year all.

      • Posts: 3085 Chuck A.

        Avatar of Chuck A.

        Happy New Year, Andrew. Here’s to a great year for the Phils. By the way, Ryan Howard will make a believer out of you again…mark my words!

  • Posts: 0 Bart Shart

    Desi Relaford was an excellent utility player. Long live Desi Relaford.

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