If he opts to play, Rolen still offers leadership
Accomplished veteran third baseman can provide intangibles a winning team desires
There was a time -- not that long ago -- when Scott Rolen's worth could be quickly, empirically, satisfyingly measured.
At the top of his game, he was simply one of the best, as a run producer of the first rank and as a top-flight third baseman. As impressive as his production was, those eight Gold Gloves put him on a higher level than most of baseball-playing humanity.
Here was a fellow, fully the size of a National Football League tight end, playing his position with the quickness, grace and general effect of Brooks Robinson.
Tony La Russa, Rolen's manager with the St. Louis Cardinals at the time, once said: "My idea of a truly perfect game would be 27 groundballs to our third baseman."
And you knew exactly what he meant. La Russa/Rolen didn't end happily, but that's not the point. To those who knew best, Scott Rolen was a consistently impressive figure in the game, dating back to the last years of the last century, when he played with the Phillies, through a long run with the Cardinals that included two World Series and one World Series championship.
Now, the years and the wear and tear have taken their usual toll. Rolen will be 38 in April. He has missed considerable time in four of the last five seasons. Shoulder and back problems have persisted. His numbers over this period reflected a career being diminished by time and injury.
There was considerable speculation that Rolen would retire after the 2012 season. He had a four-year run with the Cincinnati Reds, who had turned out to be in a growth situation, winning the National League Central two of the last three seasons. Rolen would be going out, if not on top, at least in top's neighborhood.
But if we're days away from pitchers and catchers reporting and a guy has not announced his retirement, there is an excellent chance that his continuing unretired status means that he doesn't actually want to retire.
Several viable alternatives have been mentioned as 2013 employers for Rolen, although the field was reduced by one when the Los Angeles Dodgers took themselves out of the running.
The most sensible scenario is probably a return to Cincinnati, a club that has its roster very largely set for another run at the postseason. Third base will be primarily in the possession of Todd Frazier, which would leave Rolen in a backup role.
The logical question occurs: Why not go with a younger, less expensive, quite possibly more versatile player in this backup capacity? Even if Rolen would not make the $6.5 million he did in 2012, there could still be money to be saved and roster flexibility to be gained by going in another direction.
The answer to that is in part intangible. Scott Rolen is the kind of individual a winning club would want to have on hand, for his intelligence, his leadership, his character, his clubhouse credibility.
This sort of thing doesn't lend itself to precision measurement, but it remains important, throughout the course of a marathon season. And Rolen can still play the game, just not on an everyday basis.
If Scott Rolen decides that his career has ended, that's fine, his career doesn't require any further proof of longevity or worth. But if he's still playing, the Reds, or some other club, will be fortunate to have him on board.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.