Phillies in a Bind With Utley

All the Phillies can do now is hope that rest and rehab heals Chase Utley‘s right knee. He has yet to play in a game this spring due to tendinitis, though his lack of response to treatment has caused deeper worry. This morning the Phillies said that they’re continuing “non-operative treatment” and that “additional options will be obtained,” but that language doesn’t sound encouraging. If Utley does miss significant time, the Phillies could have a hard time getting someone who can provide even a quarter of his potential value.

It’s not that there are a lack of options on the market. In his column today ESPN’s Buster Olney listed two possibilities in his column today: Jeff Keppinger and Chone Figgins. MLB Trade Rumors’s Tim Dierkes adds four more to that list: David Eckstein, Michael Young, Felipe Lopez, and Luis Castillo. None of the options is perfect, whether it’s because the player is under contract with another team, the player has a bad contract, or the player is just not very good. What complicates matters is something Ken Rosenthal mentioned yesterday: the Phillies don’t have the money to pay for a decent replacement.

The Phillies were connected to Young this winter, but it was nothing more than a fleeting rumor. If Utley’s time on the shelf is a matter of months, then bringing in Young would make a bit more sense. But Young has three years and $48 million left on his contract, including $16 million this season. Maybe the Rangers would cover a portion of that, but not to the level the Phillies would require. The same goes for Figgins, who has three years and $26 million — perhaps four years and $35 million — left on his contract with the Mariners. These are easily the two best players on the above list, but are simply unattainable for the Phillies.

Adding to the list of issues is Keppinger, who will also miss the first six weeks of the season. The Astros are already set in the infield, making Keppinger expendable. But it seems that he’d make more sense in a deadline deal so that he can work back to full strength in games. That leaves just Eckstein, Lopez, and Castillo. None is likely to cost more than the major league minimum, but they’re all question marks in terms of value. The only value they’d bring is that they’ll likely be available for the league minimum.

Castillo might be the best of the bunch. In two of the last three seasons he has failed to crack 90 games, and even in the year he did he was worth just 1.6 WAR. His OBP does have value if he stays on the field, but the major concern is that if the Phillies signed him that they’d be looking for yet another second baseman before long. Thanks to an excellent defensive year Eckstein produced 2.0 WAR last year, but at age 36 it’s tough to expect anything resembling a repeat. His offense in the last two seasons has approximated Wilson Valdez‘s, so there probably any interest here. Lopez is probably the worst defender of the crew, but he also has the most offensive upside. He’s with the Rays on a minor league deal, so a trade is possible.

Given the lack of compatibility with the better players and a lack of production from the lesser ones, the Phillies will likely try to weather the situation with internal candidates. Valdez filled in while Utley was injured last year and was no worse than the guys listed above. Josh Barfield is in camp on a minor league deal, though at 28 his chances can’t be great. Brian Bocock sits on the team’s 40-man roster, but considering his poor minor league numbers it’s unlikely he can help. Even within the team’s own ranks there don’t appear to be any viable alternatives if Utley misses a few months.

Right now the Phillies need not be hasty. They haven’t received definitive word on Utley’s condition, and there’s always a chance he’ll miss only a few weeks. But, as Olney says, no news is not good news in this situation, and the way the Phillies broke this non-news makes it sound grave indeed. If Utley does miss time, Valdez will likely take over at the start of the season. Then, as the trade deadline approaches they can reassess the situation. Perhaps by then they can trade Joe Blanton to free up some money that they can use on a second baseman. Maybe Placido Polanco can slide over if a third baseman becomes available. The possibilities will certainly open up later in the season. For now they appear limited.

There is no replacement for Chase Utley. When healthy he is one of the league’s top three second basemen, if he’s not tops himself. Even in a relatively down year in which he played just 115 games he still produced 5.2 WAR. If he is going to miss time, the Phillies must bide their time and wait for better options to emerge. They’re tapped out in terms of payroll and can’t acquire a player, Figgins or Young, who might produce half of Utley’s value, and the lesser players aren’t necessarily better than the ones they have in camp. His absence will hurt the Phillies for sure, but the same can be said whenever a team’s best hitter gets hurt. It looks as though the team’s pitching became all that much more important.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


50 Responses to “Phillies in a Bind With Utley”

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  1. Telo says:

    Scutaro?

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    • Telo says:

      Seems like he’s the third wheel up the middle for the sox, even if they claim he’s the opening day starter. And with the Sox looking to bolster their farm, seems like they would make the swap. It leaves them with a hole at UI, but I don’t think they wanted to sit Lowrie or Scutaro anyway. Seems to make sense IF there is a decent UI waiting in to sit on the bench for the sox. Though, perhaps they’ll be a little gunshy after last year, and don’t mind the surplus…

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    • Heather says:

      What do the Phillies have though, that the Sox would want?

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      He’s good, his contract is reasonable ($8M/2), and he’s potentially available. Also, if you check out Philly’s infield depth, they could really use a utility guy for when Utley returns.

      If the Sox are confident in Lowrie’s health and ability, there’s really no reason not to trade Scutaro for a fair offer. They have Yamaico Navarro in AAA, who’s underrated and should be at LEAST a good utility guy. And they have Jose Iglesias (the 52nd best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America) waiting in the wings in AA.

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      • CMC_Stags says:

        The problem with replacements from the minors is that the Red Sox have too much invested in winning this year to take a risk with an unproven commodity if either of their starters up the middle gets hurt.

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  2. byron says:

    I imagine the Tigers would give Guillen up for a reasonably talented prospect, and maybe would even cover some salary (I can’t remember what he has left, in years or dollars). He’s hurt now too, but I believe he’s far more likely to be playing May 1 than Utley is at this point.

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  3. Randy says:

    Getting something for Carlos Guillen would be a dream come true…

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  4. MikeS says:

    I don’t know how much hurt feelings play into these things, but after the Phillies signed away a certain Cliff Lee that the Rangers were interested in retaining, if I’m Jon Daniels I’m not volunteering to pay a whole lot of Michael Young’s contract. I’m not saying I pass up a chance to better my club or that if Lee hadn’t been signed away I’d be looking to do the Phillies any favors it’s just that maybe I’m more inclined to drive a hard bargain after losing Lee. But maybe I’m just more petty about that sort of thing than he is.

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    • Evan says:

      I do not expect it matters but it has been said that Lee was probably more likely to sign with the Yankees than the Rangers

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  5. NEPP says:

    Eckstein’s road numbers are significantly better than his home numbers the last two seasons in Petco.

    Road Splits:

    2010: .299 AVG/.348 OBP/.707 OPS
    2009: .286 AVG/.345 OBP/.688 OPS

    Apparently, he just really hates playing in Petco…or at least his bat does.

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    • Heather says:

      His OPS+ was 82 last year and 83 the year before….which is still better than Wilson Valdez….

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    • Powder Blues says:

      I wouldn’t say a .020 swing in OPS is significant, especially for a non-power hitter. You can definitely chock that up to random variance.

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      • Jason B says:

        I think you misread the stats he posted (I did too at first) – they’re not home-road splits, they’re his road splits only for the last two years. I think the OPS at home was significantly worse (more than .020) in each season.

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      • NEPP says:

        Exactly…its actually a .104 swing in 2010 and a .066 swing in 2009. Its definitely more than just statistical noise. He’s a much better hitter outside of Petco.

        In hindsight, I should have posted the Home numbers to make it clearer.

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  6. durf81 says:

    The White Sox will provide Teahan for a bag of balls :)

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  7. Max says:

    I find it dubious at best the Ken Rosenthal, or any writer for that matter, knows the Phils budget. This is an organization with a very murky hard to pin down ownership group, I’ll never believe that by signing Cliff Lee (or any other player this off season) would keep them from acquiring more talent if that was what it took for them to win now.

    While they may not want to spend anymore money they seem like a team that was well prepared to go all in for the next 2-3 years anyway, so what’s a couple more million.

    Plus, haven’t the Phillies already sold more than 3mm tickets? Before the season starts they’ll have sold more tickets than many teams will sell all year.

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  8. jar75 says:

    Even if Utley can get back onto the field in a timely fashion, is anyone else a bit worried about the quality of defense he’d provide. This could be a really big problem.

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    • Preston says:

      Chase Utley is a great defender and has been through hip and knee injuries. No matter what physical maladay he suffers from I can’t see his D being bad enough to where he’s really hurting the team.

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      • jar75 says:

        He has been a great defender, and that’s an integral part to what makes him so valuable. I don’t see how you can just assume he’ll continue to be so when he’s admitted the knee gives him pain when he runs and plays defense.

        Even if we assume that he’s average at 2B going forward, that’s still a ~10 run blow to his overall value.

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      • Preston says:

        Obviously, my point is that even if he loses 15 runs on defense he’s still one of the best second baseman in the league and definately better to any alternative that can be found. The Phillies need his bat in the lineup more than they need his glove in the field.

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      • Deadpool says:

        I do think this is a failing with the WAR system. If you have an entire infield of players who make up their WAR only with their bat then there’s a good chance that the team falls short of their expected win total because any ground ball pitcher will be penalized dispraportionately. If Utley becomes an average at best defender, or replacement level in a worst case scenario, yeah he’s still a valuable player. But he’s less valuable to the Phils because outside of SS they wouldn’t have a single plus defender.

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  9. AustinRHL says:

    Lopez seems like the best option here for the Phillies; he shouldn’t cost much in a trade with Tampa, and he does have a chance of looking playable. Since their internal options are fairly likely to produce below replacement level, it would be wise for them to look outside the organization and spend a few hundred thousand dollars – that would be money well spent.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    All the Phillies can do now is hope that rest and rehab heals Chase Utley‘s right knee.

    In contrast to the rest from October to Feb?

    Tendonitis is a problem that never goes away during active times, but just is more tolerable at times.

    There have been, however, some aging star players that have been injured during ST and have gone on to have reasonably healthy seasons, and be productive.

    My concern is this is just the beginning of things that start going awry … not unlike a car whose warranty just ran out.

    I would say that 2B is one position where teams do have some options, including MiLB options. The problem for Philly is that none of those solutions are “Utleyish”.

    They could also look to 3B and slide Polanco back over to 2B.

    Lots of decent options for a team that has some resources.

    Even if he is out for the year (or on and off), Philly still might be able to cope with that. That’s amazing.

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  11. Jack says:

    What about Jose Lopez? I think they could get him for cheap and I believe he’s in his last year of team control.

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    • joser says:

      Then who would the Rockies run out as their opening day 2B? They just traded (very little) for Lopez this offseason; while I wouldn’t bet against them flipping him, they’d only do so (with the NL West hardly a done deal, whatever Giants fans might think) if they think they can get better, or at least no worse, at that position.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        The do have Ian Stewart, Ty Wigginton, and Eric Young Jr. on the roster. Add in Jonathan Herrera and you have practically enough 2b/3b depth to start a minor league team. It’s tough to say if Lopez is better or worse than any of them though I do know he’s a much better 3b than 2b.

        The Phillies would probably prefer to part with some of their solid relief prospects.

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  12. Brad Johnson says:

    Just to point out, Delwyn Young is in camp and probably more likely to win a spot than Barfield or Bocock.

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    • Double D says:

      This.

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    • matt w says:

      I thought of that too, but as a Bucs fan, Young is really bad at playing second base.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        However, if you’re looking at Utley missing about a month of the regular season plus patches here and there, a combination of Valdez (solid defensively) and Young (better offensively) could be leveraged to some use without cost a bunch of dollars or prospects.

        I’m aware of Young’s defense and as a Phillies fan I would prefer to pry Jose Lopez away from Colorado and bump Polanco to 2b.

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    • AustinRHL says:

      Yes, I just realized this as well. His hitting looks like it could be acceptable, but the consensus of the defensive metrics is that he’s quite a bad second baseman. They don’t have all that many innings to work with, but combined with scouting reports, it seems hard to project him realistically as anything better than a true talent -10 fielder per 150 games.

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    • pounded clown says:

      Bocock is the bat boy.

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  13. Plunkeveryone says:

    Eckstein is the only one of that group that can make up Utley’s lost HBP numbers.

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  14. gradygradychase says:

    If Chase missed the entire season, I would remake a projection of the Phillies, and set them 2nd behind the Braves in the NL East race.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I would see it as more of a dead heat at that point. But there’s nothing to indicate now, in early March, that Utley is likely to miss the whole season or even the majority of it.

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  15. Burt Lavallo, friend to all says:

    I think the answer here is not to worry too much about getting offense from second base – as the article suggests, there’s just not much out there – and try to make up the missing production by getting a right-hand hitting outfielder. Someone who can either platoon with Ibanez, or take over right field and let Ben Francisco platoon with Ibanez. The options there are at least a little more plentiful. Mike Cameron anybody?

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  16. Choo says:

    If the Phillies are willing to let Figgins play 2B, they might as well just stand pat and let Ryan Howard or Raul Ibanez have a go at it.

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    • joser says:

      Figgins’ problem last year was not his 2B defense.

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      • Choo says:

        I agree, that wasn’t his only problem, but Joser … I know you watched as many, if not more Mariners games than I did in 2010. Figgins was completely lost at 2B. No instincts, no rhythm and bad footwork all over the place. His arm strength and natural athleticism saved an otherwise total clustercuss of a season on defense, but still … watching him play 2B was like eating dinner with someone who rakes their teeth on their fork.

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      • Deadpool says:

        I think the Phils are smarter than that, Plac’s probably still steady if not really good at the keystone, Figgins would be playing third for the Phils.

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      • Choo says:

        Well, now that makes perfect sense. I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me that Figgins & Polanco would revert back to their best positions. “Basic baseball acumen … covered in … rust! Winter …. must … end!”

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  17. Horace says:

    Utely is one of the top 3…players? Is that what you meant to say? Obviously he is one of the top 3 second basemen. I would say he is one of the top 5 players in the game definitely.

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  18. UZR is a Joke says:

    Mike Aviles

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  19. david says:

    the giants have an abundance of proven utility infield types–fontenot and derosa (and yes, 2 guys is an abundance).

    they could part with either considering how fantastic sandoval is looking so far this spring.

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  20. Joe says:

    shouldn’t this title be Phillies Chasing solutions for Utley.

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