CLEARWATER, Fla. -- This is Jimmy Rollins' 14th season with the Phillies, and he has a gray hair or two to prove it.
Rollins, 34, has seen plenty since his rookie season in 2000, and like anybody, the years have made him a little wiser. He is looking at things differently and he is seeing the bigger picture. But make no mistake, Rollins still carries the same swagger he had in 2007, when he correctly proclaimed the Phils the team to beat in the National League East, beginning a run of five consecutive NL East championships, two NL pennants and one World Series championship.
Rollins took a seat on a picnic bench just outside the Phillies' clubhouse following his workout Tuesday afternoon at Bright House Field and discussed the club's age, its chances to reclaim the NL East title and how his spot in the lineup no longer carries great importance to him.
It is always an interesting conversation as Rollins speaks candidly and shares his perspective. For example, some people say the Phils are too old and their best days are behind them.
"Well, half of it is true," he said. "We're definitely an older team, especially when you look around our division. Are the better days behind us? It's going to be sunny in Philly when we get there. It looks like some pretty good days ahead of us for me."
Rollins raised a few eyebrows on the final day of the 2012 season, when he said the Nationals would have finished in second place in the NL East had the Phillies been healthy. It was a bold statement, considering Washington finished with 98 victories and the best record in baseball, while Philadelphia had to play good baseball the final two months of the season just to finish 81-81 and third in the division.
But Rollins isn't backing off. He still believes that to be true. He also knows that opinion doesn't really matter anymore.
"That was last year," Rollins said. "And this year is different. Nothing has changed in our mentality or my mentality about how I feel about where this team should be or will be. The players we have, I like it. I was talking to [manager] Charlie [Manuel], the bullpen is good. The lineup has an opportunity to be real deep. Play some good quality baseball on both sides, the mental side of the game, it's going to be a fun team."
Asked what the Phils need to do to run down the Nats, he said, "Nothing. Nobody is in first place. No one is in last place. So when the season starts, everybody is 0-0. Play some good quality baseball, we'll be right where we need to be."
Rollins feels that way because Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are healthy, and he likes the moves the team made in the offseason.
"Everybody is in the right mind frame," Rollins said. "We're a complete team. We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game.
"We did what we needed to do [in the offseason]. We just needed to fill a couple of holes and get the other guys back healthy, and we've done that. [Mike] Adams is going to be huge from what he's done, and being able to continue that, it's going to be great. Mikey Young, he's just a professional hitter, as Sarge [broadcaster Gary Matthews] would say. The little man out in center field, Tootsie Pop, Ben Revere, he's going to bring that energy. Shane [Victorino] left, and we've got a guy who can come in and steal bags, so we don't miss a beat there. It's different, but it's a great dynamic what we have now. It's a good feeling. As you can see, it's nice and calm. Last year, everybody was uncertain. There's a lot more certainty around here."
Nothing seems more certain than Rollins hitting leadoff when everybody is healthy. Manuel was asked about that on Monday, and he got agitated at the suggestion the Phillies would be better served with Rollins hitting lower in the lineup. Manuel likes somebody with speed and power atop the lineup, which Rollins provides. But interestingly, Rollins said he no longer cares where he hits.
That is a marked change from a guy who always said he is a leadoff hitter.
"Which I am, and that will never change," Rollins said. "But you are asking about caring, and that part, not really as much ..."
Why? Is that wisdom?
"Basically, yeah, that's a good way to put it," Rollins said. "There are more important things, like winning, when you don't do it [make the postseason] for one year, it's whatever it takes."
Now don't expect Rollins to be hitting elsewhere Opening Day. Manuel reinforced his case for Rollins in the top spot, and it sounds like it is going to be impossible to change his mind. At least for now. But it is interesting to note Rollins said he doesn't care where he hits as long as the team wins.
And he expects to win.
It won't be easy. The Nationals and Braves made some significant offseason acquisitions, and the Nats might be the best team in baseball.
"Has there ever been a team this complete on paper?" Washington outfielder Jayson Werth asked reporters on Saturday.
"He's probably right," Rollins said. "We had some teams here that found ways to win, but we were by no means a complete team. We found ways to get the job done, to compensate for our shortcomings. He's over there, he knows his players, the talent level. He should be excited."
But as far as the Phillies gasping their last breath before a rebuilding project, Rollins doesn't see it. He said this isn't their last best chance to win, considering Halladay, Utley and Carlos Ruiz are free agents after the season.
"Nope, nope," Rollins said. "Not at all. I'd love to do it with these guys. It would give the team more incentive to bring them back, but I don't think it's one last shot."
Rollins certainly can have something to say about that. And if they do what he thinks they will, he probably will.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.