It seems like the closer we get to opening day, the chances Chase will be ready to play are getting smaller. When Chase Utley missed the first spring training game, it was just called general body soreness. It was then later revealed that he was dealing with patella tendinitis and received a cortisone shot last Friday. A week later it seems Chase has made little progess. Right now the team is taking a wait and see approach and hoping that the pain goes away. If the pain does not subside, it looks like they will have two options. He can play through a lot of pain and have surgery in the offseason or have potential season ending surgery.
Tigers 3rd baseman Brandon Inge dealt with a similar injury and elected to play through the pain during the 2009 season. He said it was ok at times but the pain was almost unbearable at times as well. He had surgery after the season and said that he is only now feeling 100%. Chase is a gamer and will play through the pain if he can, but has to be careful he doesn’t do any more damage and cause an end to his baseball days. The Phillies have a number of different ways they can go, they may elect to try to replace Utley internally or they might have look outside of the organization for help. But trading for a player who could even partially replace the production of a Chase Utley will be very expensive in terms of dollars and/or prospects.
In house Options
This is perhaps the most logically and likely option. Valdez filled in fine for the team last year when Utley went down with the thumb injury. Last season Valdez started 109 games for the Phillies at 2B, SS and 3B, while setting career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs, rbi’s and steals. He pretty much set career highs in every statistical category but on base percentage. He hit .258 with 4 home runs and 35 RBI’s while playing gold glove caliber defense. But the real question is, can he even duplicate the decent numbers he put up last year. He was a non roster invitee last spring and was even placed on waivers by the team at one point during the season. If the team decides he is the best option, I would like to see him moved to third and Polanco to 2nd. Valdez has a cannon and I think it will be put to better use at the hot corner.
Barfield signed with the team as minor league free agent and was invited to camp as a non roster invitee. It wasn’t that long ago that he was a promising young player with the San Diego Padres. In 2004 Baseball America ranked him as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball, he was one spot ahead of Mets 3b David Wright. He was ranked by BA as the number one prospect in the Padres system in both 2004 and 2005. But he has obviously never lived up to his potential. During his rookie season in 2006, he played 150 games while batting .280 with 13 homeruns, 58 RBI’s while stealing 21 bases. Since a promising rookie season Barfield has regressed. He was traded to the Indians after the 2006 season and batted just .243 for the Tribe in 2007. He has just 53 major league at bats since his first two seasons and didn’t play in the majors last season. At 28-years old he has had an impressive spring for the team so far. He has 7 hits in just 14 at bats with a total of ten bases. Barfield has above average speed and was once thought to have 20-25 home run potential. It might be his last chance to play at the major league level and those type of players are always the most dangerous.
Young is also a 28 year old non roster invitee. He was originally a 4th round pick by the Dodgers in the 2002 draft. He was a quality prospect but never was as hyped as Barfield. Young has started 136 career games at LF, RF, 2B and 3B. He started a career high 83 games with the Pirates in 2009 but only managed 7 home runs and 43 RBI’s while batting .266. Young has hit 17 career home runs while batting just .258. He is not a threat to steal many bases as he just has swiped 4 bags. Young can be a versatile player off the bench but isn’t a guy who should be starting on a World Series contending team.
He has been the most popular name that fans and writers have thrown around the past few weeks. The team reportedly had “kicked the tires” on Young before the spring. Maybe they knew more about Utley at that point then they have led on. With the signing of Adrian Beltre, the Rangers have made no secret that they would like to move Young. He hit .284 with 21 homeruns and 91RBI’s last season while mainly batting 2nd for the Rangers. Young is an impact hitter who is right handed and he would help the Phillies a lot. But he is 34 years old and owed 16 million per season for the next 3 years. The Phillies are already at their limit in payroll and it is unlikely they would take on a contract like that. In reality Young is $8-10 million a year player at best and he is getting older. He played 3B last season but has seen time at both 2B and SS during his career. If he is acquired, the Phils could leave him at 3rd and move Polanco to 2nd. If the Rangers would be willing to send $20 million with Young, I would consider it. But I would be scared to pay a guy $16 million to be a super utility player if Chase does return. In Chase’s absence he would fit in great and probably hit 3rd for the team.
A lot of phans were clamoring for Figgins when he signed with the Mariners last offseason. The Phillies went a different route and signed Polanco. Figgins has played all 3 outfield positions, 2B, SS and 3b during his career. He has spent most of his time between 2nd and 3rd and started 161 games at 2b for Seattle last year. In 2009 he had a career year; he hit .298 with 54 stolen bases. Chone had a down year last season hitting just .259. Figgins is owed $26 million over the next 3 years with an attainable vesting option for $9 million for the 2014 season. Figgins is a slap hitter who relies on his speed to be effective. He is already 33 years old and his speed will only diminish as he ages. There were rumors of Seattle trying to deal him at the deadline last season and I’m sure they would deal him for the right package.
Keppinger is also another name I have heard tossed around in the last few days; he is perhaps the most under the radar player discussed. He has played all over the diamond during his career but mainly at SS and 3b. Keppinger is best described as a super utility player and has never been the main stay at a position for any team. He batted .288 last season with 6 homeruns and 59 RBI’s, But I’m not sure how much more he brings to the table than Valdez would. If he can be acquired cheaply, I wouldn’t be opposed. He is also recovering from a toe injury and will be out until around May 1st.
This might be the shocker and most unrealistic of the group so far. But let me first explain my rational. McCutchen is a promising young player and the Pirates would no doubt demand a hefty ransom. You might also be thinking that Utley plays 2nd, how does acquiring an outfielder help us? I bring up Andrew because I’m not in love with the other alternatives. He is a center fielder but I don’t’ think that would be a problem. Flyin and his cannon of an arm would fit great in RF. Francisco could platoon with Ibanez in LF and take over for him in 2012. Despite spending most of his time hitting leadoff, he had 189 at bats hitting third last year. Last season he hit .286 with 16 homeruns, 56 RBI’s and 33 steals. He is just 24 and just hitting his prime. So what would I be willing to send to Pittsburgh in exchange? It would take a lot and I don’t see any way the deal would happen without including Dom Brown. They are about the same age but McCutchen has more service time than Brown and there is a chance he will qualify as Super 2 next off season. This could make him become too expensive for the Pirates. Howard set a Super 2 record when he was awarded $10 million. Andrew doesn’t look to make Howard money, but he would likely earn in the range of $4-7 million.
Justin Upton signed an extension that could be similar to the kind McCutchen is looking for, he signed for 6 years and $51 million. Brown would give the Pirates a much cheaper player for the next few seasons but a player who has a lot of potential. The Phillies would get a player who is ready to contribute at a high level this season. He could bat 3rd until Chase returns this seasons and be the potential leadoff hitter of the future when Jimmy is done. He is also right handed and will give them more balance in the coming years. But I wouldn't offer more than Brown, May and a lower level prospect for McCutchen.
Despite the plethora of options the team has, the best option is a healthy Chase Utley. His production will be hard to replace but his leadership is irreplaceable. I personally like the McCutchen option the best, but it is the most unlikely and perhaps the most unrealistic. If I were the Phillies I would look internally to fill the position for at least the start of the season and if it doesn’t look like Chase is returning this season, they can then start to look outside of the organization.