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The White Sox have invested in a 37-year-old shortstop coming of the worst year of his career. Should you do the same?
Jimmy Rollins held virtually no fantasy value in 2015, and sat on the free-agent sidelines most of the winter until the Sox signed him in February. In his prime, he surpassed 20 HRs and 30 SBs in the same season four different times, making him an annual resident in overall top 20 fantasy rankings. Even as recently as 2014, he hit 17 HRs and had 28 SBs, delivering near-top-tier fantasy value at the shallow position of SS.
Yet, he has shown his age in recent years via a plummeting BA and OPS (.224 and .643, respectively, last year were both career-lows) and games missed due to injuries. When the Sox signed him, it seemed like a decent investment in veteran help and a hedge bet while they waited for younger talents like Tim Anderson, Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino to fully develop and claim infield jobs.
Instead, Rollins has been arguably the best-performing SS in the Cactus League this spring, with four HRs, 12 RBI, .341 BA and .975 OPS. Anderson and Sanchez both have been sent to the minors, so Rollins very likely is your Opening Day starter on the South Side, and there's reason to believe he will hold some decent fantasy value this summer.
I'm basing this belief not only on his spring performance, but also on the likelihood that The Cell's hitter-friendly dimensions will help him collect a few more HRs. While Rollins often has been a leadoff man or No. 2 hitter, for better or worse he has never been much of an OBP guy (his career-high of .349 coming in 2008, the year he helped lead the Phillies to the World Series). He often has indulged an inclination to swing for the fences, and while that inclination didn't play well in cavernous Dodger Stadium, Rollins' home field last year, it might work better for him at The Cell. After hitting 13 HRs last year, 20 doesn't seem like an over-inflated expectation for this year.
He also could still have some fantasy value to contribute in the SB category. Rollins has stolen 40+ bases in a season four times. It's true he may no longer be the prolific base-stealer of his younger years (he has no SBs in spring training, and had a career-low 12 in 2015), but given the chance it wouldn't be a surprise to see him steal 15-20 bases this year.
So, we are talking about a potential 20 HR/20 SB player. I left Rollins out of my fantasy SS rankings last month because it wasn't even clear to me he would make the team, and to be honest his apparent desire to be a home run-hitting leadoff man a la Rickey Henderson (nobody's as good as Rickey, says Rickey) always kind of pissed me off. Now, with the season-shortening injury to Jhonny Peralta, SS, STL, I probably would add Rollins to the list, somewhere in the range of No. 10 to No. 15.
The best thing about all this is that you don't have to spend a premium draft pick on Rollins on the hope he pays off with a 20/20 season. Rollins has been drafted in only 3% of all Yahoo! leagues, and even when drafted his average draft position is in the 21st round. So make him your last or second-to-last pick, or don't pick him at all and just pay close attention to the waiver wire. The old man in the infield may turn out to be one of 2016's biggest fantasy bargains.
Dan O'Shea is our fantasyland correspondent. He welcomes your comments.
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