It has become a war of attrition at second base in Philadelphia.
On Monday, we heard that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has plateaued in his rehab. He is not expected to be healthy by Opening Day. To make matters worse, utility infielder Michael Martinez broke a bone in his foot after being struck by a pitch from Orioles’ reliever Jim Johnson on Tuesday afternoon. The 29-year-old Martinez is not projected to be available for Opening Day, either.
So who will handle the keystone duties opposite shortstop Jimmy Rollins to begin the season?
The leading (and perhaps the only legitimate) candidate appears to be the Phillies’ reigning minor league player of the year, shortstop Freddy Galvis. The 22-year-old prospect was originally signed out of Punto Fijo, Venezuela as a teenager. Always known for his slick glovework up the middle, Galvis improved at the plate last season, hitting .278/.324/.392 between Double-A and Triple-A. He is a switch-hitter, but he did perform much better on the left side of the plate in 2011. In fact, 32 of his 40 extra-base hits came as a left-hander against right-handed pitching.
Although Galvis improved significantly from previous years with the bat, he still only posted a .716 OPS in the minors last season. Those types of offensive numbers do not often transition well to the big league level. Furthermore, ZiPS only projects a .290 wOBA with the Phillies in 2012, which is well below the National League average for second baseman (.302 wOBA). Galvis would have to be one of the best defensive second basemen in the league to justify playing his bat on an everyday basis.
Luckily, his glove just might be that good. Baseball America touts Galvis as “arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors,” and one can reasonably expect this defense at second base to be even better, as it lies further right on the defensive spectrum popularized by Bill James. If he can be a Darwin Barney type second baseman — who was worth +2.2 wins last season, despite only posting a .296 wOBA — the Phillies may be able to skate by with his production at second base until Chase Utley can return from his injury.
Keep in mind that Philadelphia will start the 2012 season without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the everyday lineup. Their starting rotation projects to be as dominating as it was last season, but without the two powerhouse bats anchoring the batting order, will Philadelphia attempt to squeeze a round peg into a square hole at second base in hopes of generating more offense?
Or, more simply, will the Philadelphia Phillies try to tempt the baseball gods and play Ty Wigginton at second base from time to time? Wigginton clearly has more value with the bat than Galvis. He possesses more power, a higher walk rate, and (more importantly) a track record at the major league level. The organization knows what to expect from Ty Wigginton at the plate, even if it happens to be a low batting average, a middling on-base percentage, and 15-20 home runs.
Of course, Wigginton is terrible with the glove at second base. He is terrible defensively all over the diamond. That fact perennially negates his value as a baseball player. He has not been worth more than +0.4 WAR since the 2008 season and has compiled a -0.7 WAR over the past three years, mainly due to a combined -26.6 UZR in that time frame. Fortunately, Wigginton should spend most of his time at first base and third base to begin of the season, so any potential starts at second base would likely be few and far between.
It should be noted that 32-year-old journeyman Pete Orr could see some time at second base, as he played 188.2 innings at second for the Phillies in 2011. Given the fact that he has not provided positive value to a club since 2005, however, should keep any potential experiment surrounding Orr rather short.
The Phillies could also look to the trade market for help. Orlando Hudson of the Padres has been a common name on the trading block since signing a two-year deal prior to the 2011 season. Ryan Theriot could theoretically be available in San Francisco, or perhaps the Phillies take a chance and acquire someone like Brandon Inge of the Tigers and hope they can catch lightning in a bottle for a month.
Most likely, though, Philadelphia will break camp with Freddy Galvis as their starting second baseman. The best case scenario is that the young man provides significant value with his glove and does not do too much negative damage with his bat in the eight spot of the batting order. Philadelphia simply needs to tread water until Chase Utley can hopefully return from his knee issues to the lineup on a regular basis.