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Utley: What’s Best for the Team?

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Mar 1 2011 @ 2:09 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 5 Comments

News from Spring Training is that Chase Utley will not be performing in Grapefruit League action this week. Pending the MRI results and a course of action long-term, how long will the team wait to make a decision? MRI results indicated that Utley’s right knee is hobbled by tendinitis.

[1]

Utley joined Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit five home runs in a single World Series

The team has announced that they will bring Utley along slowly, so as to avoid aggravating the malady and hopefully to save Utley for the grind of a 162-game season (and expected postseason).

Utley has not been scheduled for a cortisone injection and has not publicly discussed surgical solutions at this point but these considerations are realistic depending on the severity of the injury. Simple tendinitis is something people live with and treat with medication every day in all walks of life but for a baseball player this type of repetitive stress injury is not afforded time to heal.

Then it becomes a matter of time, tolerance and sheer force of will. Utley was limited to just 115 games played in 2010 thanks to nagging hip and thumb injuries and over the past 3 seasons has seen his games played dwindle from 159 to 156 and then 115. Those numbers do not include 4 All-Star appearances, 120 Spring Training games, 41 postseason games in four seasons while the Phillies have taken 4 NL East crowns, played in two World Series and 3 NLCS.

[2]At 32 years old, Utley should be at the peak of his baseball years but even the toughest player cannot “shake off” serious injuries. While every MLB player knows the tedium of a Major League season, the demands on the mind and body will invariably take their toll.

Surgery and rehabilitation on Utley’s knee would be the worst-case scenario – assuming that the prognosis is worse than is generally known. Should that point be reached, it is likely that the Phillies would encourage Utley to have the surgery sooner rather than later. Postponing surgery would be that Utley would contend with this ” tendinitis ” in his knee all season. It would mean frequent cortisone injections, reduced range of motion, diminished speed and [3]very likely decreased power – even in a best-case scenario where Utley simply “toughs it out.” Chase Utley is a “gamer” in the truest sense of the word. A follower of the Tao of Charlie Hustle where you play every game as though it is your first and your last. You play through pain, you give 100% effort and you do anything and everything you can to ensure that your team prevails.

Utley has done all of these [4]things, sacrificing his body by playing hard, playing hurt and always answering the bell. So at what point do we find out whether or not Utley will be able to play at an “Utley-esque” level in 2011? The Phillies do not have a lot of options behind Utley – something that is evident when watching any of the Grapefruit League action from Florida thus far. Wilson Valdez proved an effective stopgap filling in [5]for Utley in 2010 but his value to the team is to remain in his utility role, spelling Rollins, Polanco and Utley once or twice a week. Brian Bocock, Freddy Galvis, Harold Garcia, Cesar Hernandez are all in camp and will all play for either Rwading (AA) or Lehigh Valley (AAA) as they continue their development. Michael Martinez (a Rule 5 acquisition) might have a chance to stick as an extra infielder

[6]

Michael Martinez

but he would have to remain on the major league roster for the entire season or be surrendered (he would revert to the Washington Nationals). In 5 seasons, Martinez has a grand total of 548 AB across all 5 levels of minor league plan’s worth of AB: .263, 20 HR, 208 RBI, 82 SB, .683 OPS. To be more accurate, this is a 27-year-old career minor leaguer with a .951 fielding percentage, never more than 9 HR in a year (AA), average speed and competent baseball skills – who was unable to crack the Major League roster of the Washington Nationals!!!!

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Michael Young disgruntled Texas Ranger

Not a lot of options within the organization, meaning this might resuscitate rumors of disgruntled Texas Rangers Michael Young to Philadelphia. I’d originally suggested this about a month ago (2/10/2011 “Young and Restless” http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/young-and-restless/ [8]) when I posted that a Blanton/Young trade might help both teams. At the time, I’d indicated that additional players would have to be included to make it work for both sides – especially because Young’s contract is worth $80M (over 5 years through 2013) while [9]Blanton’s is $17M through 2012 (a contract which proves that Ruben Amaro subscribes to the Mayan calendar). Texas could use another veteran starting pitcher and Young is not likely to be much more than a DH with the Rangers. Actually, a trade for Blanton would permit Texas to leave Neftali Feliz in his closer’s role, which netted him 40 saves in 2010′s World Series season. Bringing Young to Philadelphia
[10]

Joe Blanton

makes more sense every day – whether Utley is lost for the season or not. Young can play all four infield positions as well as corner outfield and provides a scintillating right-handed bat off the bench (in 10 seasons, .300 BA, .347 OBP and .795 OPS, averaging 17 HR, 87 RBI and 199 hits over his career). Naturally Young’s total AB would be decimated but consider that he can spend time as a right-handed compliment to Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and he would be an excellent candidate in the RF platoon mix (a crop which currently consists of Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, John Mayberry and Domonic Brown). This would afford Brown another year of much-needed seasoning in the minors and it would provide the right-handed bat that the Phillies lineup sorely needs.

[11]

Ibanez

Even if Utley plays the 2011 season, having a supersub like Young would afford Charlie Manuel the flexibility to juggle five outstanding offensive and defensive infielders as pitching matchups and schedules allow. What if Utley, Rollins, Howard and Polanco could all count on an extra day off per week? Young could balance the right field and left field situation, creating a double platoon with Ibanez, Mayberry, Gload and Francisco. Win. Win. Win. Win.

Now all we have to do is wait for the Phillies to tell us how they want to proceed…

 

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[3] Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/03/2009-Ws-Lee-Utley.jpg

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[8] http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/young-and-restless/: http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/young-and-restless/

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