Three months ago Phillies fans address read “cloud nine”. A fan base that has been used to losing was finally the envy of the entire league. “World Series or bust” was a popular phrase you would hear when discussing the upcoming season. But that was then, and this is now.
While expectations are still high for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, the black cloud of the injury plague is creeping over the Clearwater horizon. Having already taken Domonic Brown for the next 3-6 weeks, it has turned its focus on a prodigal son.
Chase Utley reported knee concerns a few weeks ago. At the time spring training had just begun, so fan concern was low. However as days turned into weeks concern for Utley’s knee has grown leaving many fans wondering who will be the teams opening day second basemen. The Phillies are doing everything in their power not to have Utley undergo knee surgery, a move that would force Utley to miss the entire season. While the Phillies offense should be able to overcome the loss of Jayson Werth, it would be hard for them to overcome both Werth and Utley. As David Murphy pointed out Sunday on Twitter “The loss of both Utley and Werth would result in 5 less pitches thrown by opposing pitchers each game. Doesn’t seem like a lot but it would quickly make a difference.
With concern growing, I’d like to look at a few possible options for the Phillies if Utley can’t go for a long extended period of time.
The best obvious choice is the six time All Star Michael Young. Young wants out of Texas because of the log jam at his primary positions short stop, and third base. The Rangers haven’t done themselves any favors by the way they’ve treated the 2008 Gold Glove winner. After winning his first and only Gold Glove as a short stop, the team asked Young to switch to third base. It was a move that Young was none too pleased about, but did anyway. After transitioning over to third base the Rangers went out and signed Adrian Beltre to a 1 year, 9 million dollar deal. The plan was to use Young as a utility guy but Young wants out.
He’s demanded a trade. And the Rangers are looking to accommodate his wishes. The Phillies were rumored to be interested in Young, as they “kicked the tires” a month ago but found Texas’ asking price to be too high. Nothing has changed.
Don’t expect Michael Young to be donning Phillies pinstripes anytime soon. The Rangers are willing to eat half of Young’s reaming contract (currently at $48 million) but that would mean the asking price for prospects would be larger. While the Phillies probably have the prospects to get it done, the problem is the Phillies best prospects are in the lower levels. Since the Rangers aren’t looking to build for the future, but win now, the prospects the Rangers would be looking for would have to be close to major league ready. Also the Phillies payroll is reportedly maxed out. While it’s a nice idea, it probably won’t get done.
Wilson Valdez had almost as many at bats in 2010 (333) in his previous 4 season in the majors. He set career highs in every offensive category, and showed off solid glove play in the absence of Jimmy Rollins. While Valdez was a pleasant surprise in 2010, is anyone really comfortable with him possibly being a full time player in 2011?
One factor that helps Valdez is the fact that he’s an in house solution, and with the Phillies payroll currently “maxed out”, he looks to be the obvious choice. If Utley were to go on the DL, he would be the incumbent to replace him in the lineup.
Last season the Phillies were hurt by injuries. Nearly every starter hit the DL at one time or another, yet the team still finished with the best record in baseball. How’d they do it? Ruben Amaro Jr. made a series of little moves which paid off down the stretch. Minor league deals for guys like Wilson Valdez, and Cody Ransom. Waiver claims for Nelson Figueroa and a waiver trade for Mike Sweeney. And drafting David Herndon in the Rule 5 Draft.
This year’s Rule 5 pick is Michael Martinez, and like Herndon, he could be called upon to make an impact early and often. The athletic second basemen is making it hard for the Phillies front office to offer him back to the Nationals as he is hitting .292 this spring. He is tied for the 4th most at bats on the team, and is making the most out of Utley’s absence. Last season he split time in between AA and AAA hitting a combined .272 with 11 HR, 56 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. His versatility is also helping his case, as he can play second, short, and the occasional outfield.
If Utley is listed on the disabled list to start the season than expect Martinez to be the backup to Wilson Valdez.
As soon as you heard that the Mets had released veteran second basemen Luis Castillo, you knew the Phillies would be interested. Apparently they are VERY interested. New York’s Adam Rubin is reporting that the Phillies are close to agreeing with the Castillo as he is set to clear waivers tomorrow. I’m sure this news is making more than a few Phillies fans roll their eyes.
You have to imagine how bad a player has to be if the Mets, a team that is having financial woes like no other, is willing to release a player and pay his remaining $6 million. You also have to consider that Castillo is getting released by the Mets, a team that should compete for last place in the “battle for the basement” in the NL East this season. So does Castillo have anything left in the tank?
The Phillies will only have to pay Castillo the league minimum, so financially it’s not a bad deal. But what will the Phillies really get in return? According to Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Jon Heyman the Phillies are getting “a crummy player w/zero range who looks perpetually put off.” Not exactly a glowing recommendation.
Castillo batted a dismal .235 with 0 HR, and just 17 RBI in 247 at bats. Things got so bad that Castillo eventually lost his job to 21 year old Ruben Tejada. Even with the addition of Castillo I would still expect Valdez to be the starter if Utley can’t go on Opening Day. Castillo should be no more than a veteran stop gap, and I would be shocked if he can last the entire season on the club. This is a case of a guy who is way past his prime, and who should probably just pack it in.
If you’re a Phillies fan, none of these names sound exciting except for Young, whose price is too steep. Hopefully the Phillies won’t have to go with one of these options very long. While you can play through the pain Utley is currently enduring (ask Brandon Inge who played through it during his All Star year of 2009). However Utley plays a demanding position, and would likely not be the same Utley that fans have come to know and love.
Decisions are mounting for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. With opening day getting closer and closer, Utley’s knee has not improved much. Utley is doubtful for Opening Day, question is who will be starting in his place come April 1st?