It would seem that opinions regarding Chase Utley’s knee are as diverse and disparate as the people offering them. Ask 20 people and you will in fact get 20 different opinions. Normally when a medical issue arises, some of us prefer to ask trained professional medical personnel – inquiring about what’s called a prognosis. For those who watch TV’s “House” this would be when he blurts out “You’re either going to die in three seconds or you’re really bad at math…3…2…1… oh, I guess I was wrong!” In some circles, a prognosis is delivered when a patient has been examined, diagnosed, tested for several possible contingencies and via the Socratic method, a consensus is reached with a medical basis.
Since the Phillies PR people are not divulging anything close to a straightforward delivery of the situation, perhaps it is up to we, the media and you the readers to decide for ourselves. We’re all intelligent people who are well-read, well-educated and ridiculously aware of all things baseball, are we not?
We should start with a review of the patient’s history. Mr. Utley is a veteran Major League Baseball player, having spent the past 8 seasons as the second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to that he was a minor league third baseman but as of April 2003, he became a Philadelphia Phillie. Supplanting then Phillies second baseman Placido Polanco, Utley played in just 43 games during the 2003 season and 94 games in 2004. As of 2005 Polanco was headed for Detroit while Utley became the Phillies full-time, hard-nosed, quiet but passionate second baseman. In eight seasons, Utley has put up numbers foreign to most of his peers. His .293 AVG, 177 HR (29 AVG), 650 RBI (105 AVG), 237 doubles (38 AVG), 677 runs (109 AVG) and .982 fielding percentage have nabbed Utley 5 All-Star appearances and ranked him as high as third in MVP voting plus multiple Silver Slugger Awards. Utley also stands with Reggie Jackson as the only two players in MLB history to total 5 HR in a since World Series (Jackson 1977, Utley 2009).
In 2010, Utley’s playing time finally was affected by injuries to his hand and knee, limiting him to 115 games. Utley rallied by season’s end and made it back for the Phillies postseason run. That run took the team barnstorming past Cincinnati and ended in the NLCS against San Francisco. It was the fourth straight year that Utley and the Phillies made the postseason, marking their third straight NLCS, four NLDS and two World Series appearances – including the 2008 World Championship. Always a gamer, always quiet but reliable, Utley has been the consummate teammate – possibly to his own detriment. Utley believes in the yeoman philosophy that you show up every day, do your job, do it as well as you can and take glory in the collective efforts rather than your own. Pride is a job well done.
This spring, Utley complained of knee discomfort. Trainers initially presumed it was tendinitis and offered Utley the chance to take it easy and manage his own progress during Spring Training. Normal treatment for knee tendinitis is rest and possibly a cortisone shot. Most people in regular life walk around with the discomfort, but for an athlete, the cortisone relieves pain, reduces inflammation and restores mobility and lateral range. Chase Utley’s sore right knee hasn’t improved since getting that cortisone shot last week, and the Phillies are now “in the information seeking stage” in hopes of finding a non-surgical means of treating the injury.
Utley was given a second MRI on Monday that showed tedinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation, all symptoms that the team said have not been uncommon for Utley in the past. The difference this time is that the usual means of treating the soreness have not worked. The team freely admits they are unsure what the next step will be, although GM Ruben Amaro said surgery would be a last resort.
“We’re trying to do this non-operatively,” Amaro said. “We’d rather not go in there and operate – even arthroscopically. We are going to try to exhaust all those possibilities and look at the big picture. Chase is 32 and has a contract through 2013 but we are looking at what is best for Chase the person. Chase will have a life after baseball and he still has his baseball career so it needs to be Chase’s decision. Now, it may turn out that we have to do something, as far as operation is concerned. But the goal is to get him well without doing it.”
Neither Amaro nor trainer Scott Sheridan could offer specifics on the type of treatment Utley might possibly receive, but Amaro said the team, along with Dr. Michael Cicotti, will be conducting a wide-ranging search for possibilities. There is no guarantee that surgery provides the best outcome nor is there a guarantee that rest alone will have a positive effect on Utley’s knee.
“It’s a combination of Chase’s people being part of this process as well, keeping everybody informed,” Amaro said. “It’s kind of all-inclusive. Mike (Dr. Michael Cicotti) has connections in this business basically across the globe and he’s trying to seek the best opinions we can get.”
“Our hope is that he’s ready to go opening day, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Amaro said. Amaro remains hopeful that Utley will be ready to play “sooner than later” but downplayed the potential of having his starting second baseman in the opening day lineup. Apparently the pain is such that Utley could not simply choose play through it without doing serious damage and being largely diminished as an effective player.
Amaro said Wilson Valdez is the likely top candidate to fill in should Utley miss time during the regular season, and he said he’s unlikely to consider trade options at this point. Speculation still swirls around
disgruntled Texas Rangers Michael Young as well as other rumors. Amaro dismisses most rumors, but it is public knowledge that there was an inquiry made to Texas about Young’s availability (“Young & Restless” February 2/10/2011).
Delwyn Young, Pete Orr and Josh Barfield are also potential 2B options in camp this spring – not to mention Rule 5 acquisition Michael Martinez. Valdez played 111 games in 2010, subbing for injured Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and spelling Placido Polanco at third, so his value is versatility.
Orr and Barfield haven’t played a lot of short or third while Young plays some OF but none have ever been a true utilityman in the Majors. Amaro hopes that there will be nothing beyond a stop-gap solution needed, but given the progressively grim reports since Utley’s initial diagnosis, putting a timetable on a potential return remains a murky situation at best and a dreadful situation at worst.
Utley is on the field now waiting to take batting practice and spoke to the media at about 11 a.m.
Chase Utley speaks:
“I got a little bit of relief from it [cortisone shot], not as much as I was anticipating. So on that front, nothing has changed a whole lot. I’m still taking batting practice, still playing catch, trying to take it easy on my legs right now, and go from there.”
“It’s something that I’m trying to educate myself more and more on, trying to get as many opinions as possible on how to treat it. There’s no black and white here, it’s something that you have to deal with, and obviously it’s a little frustrating right now. But, we have to look at the big picture and try get this resolved, obviously quickly, but also be in good spirits for the long run.”
“I think that’s a last resort at this point, but I think we’re going to exhaust every avenue prior to that, and continue to see how it goes and monitor it on a day-to-day basis… My goal is to alleviate this as quickly as possible but still keep in mind that I still have a career ahead of me.”
Young has stated publicly that he is willing to be moved to any of 10 teams. The eight pre-approved teams are the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and Houston Astros. The other two teams Young approved are the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs. Young will achieve 10-and-5 (ten years MLB service, 5 with one team) rights in May, so he can veto a trade to any team once he qualifies for that seniority. Young is scheduled to make $16 million in each of the next three seasons, which has scared off most potential suitors – including the Phillies who owe Chase Utley $15M through 2013.
Phillies lead scount Charlie Kerfeld has been assigned to monitor Michael Young throughout the Spring. What else could this mean other than the fact that this is a priority for the Phillies to acquire Michael Young? Speculation that Amaro and the Phillies braintrust are seeking options outside the organization would invariably have to include the likes of David Eckstein or Troy Glaus. Neither veteran player is committed to a Major League team for 2011 and either would cost significantly less than Michael Young.
While the term “free” is a bit of a misnomer, the following players would be available for any MLB team… not suggesting anything just that the Phillies for example wanted to investigate alternative options, they might include these players:
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org