5 Things Philadelphia Phillies Should Do If Chase Utley Is Done
Over the last eight to nine years or so, Chase Utley has become a vital member of this Philadelphia Phillies team. From his grand slam as his first major-league hit, to his outstanding offensive support to lead the Phillies back to postseason play in 2007, to the World Series in 2008 and in the World Series in 2009, Utley has truly been "The Man" that longtime broadcaster Harry Kalas dubbed him.
Unfortunately, as it's 2012 now, things have changed. Utley is no longer the young, offensive powerhouse he used to be. He's still more than adequate defensively, but there's little pop in his bat as a result of his weakening legs, specifically his knees. With power coming from the legs, Utley's just got nothing left there.
As much as we'd like to think Utley will come back to his All-Star form, the hard truth is this: Chase Utley has almost nothing left in the tank. It's sad, but it's also a fact we have to face. And it's hard for me to face, too, since Utley's always been my personal favorite on the roster.
But could it be more than this? Could Utley be at the point where he has to stop playing altogether? It may very well come to this sooner rather than later, and the Phillies need to have a plan in place in case it does. Utley is under contract through next season, but if push comes to shove and Utley isn't capable of playing next season but doesn't retire, a very sad ending may come with the conclusion of Utley's Phillies tenure, whether a release or—most likely—retirement.
With this in mind, the Phillies must be looking for some options both in and outside of their organization. If the replacement for his offense comes at a different position, then the Phillies must pursue it. After all, the top two possible second basemen on next year's free-agent market, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips, have both recently signed contract extensions that will keep them on their respective teams for at least five more years. With Ryan Howard an uncertainty now as well, the need is even more pressing to find an offensive force to fill the void that Utley (and possibly Ryan Howard) has left.
Today, we'll explore any and all options. Whether from the draft to a trade, a free-agent signing to a promotion to the major-league level, all avenues must be explored. Ready?
Keep Freddy Galvis as the Starting Second Baseman
I know this might not be a move that all fans are in favor of, but it's a move that could turn out to be both the most cost effective and the best option.
Freddy Galvis has started out the season in an interesting fashion. It took him until the home opener to even record a hit, yet he is tied for second on the team with five runs batted in. He's hitting only .222 with an OPS of just .657, yet he has already hit his first major-league home run and his RBI have all come in on either doubles or the long ball.
Galvis' defense has also been superb. With only one error (that was arguably unjust), Galvis' glove has looked spectacular at his new position. His range factor per game (5.56) and per nine innings (6.14) are well both over the league averages, and though his fielding percentage just tops the league average of .977 (his is .980), the error is all that discounts it from being perfect.
So would the best plan be to keep Galvis at second base for the long haul and have him step up as Chase Utley's replacement when the time comes? Yes, a different internal replacement could do the trick, but realize that the Phils' internal depth at second base is scarce, and their only natural second baseman drafted this past year was Andrew Amaro, a 47th-round selection. They did take other shortstops and third basemen who could convert like Galvis has—they would also have more time to do so—but let's face it: Aside from Galvis, there is no obvious second baseman of the future within the Phillies' farm system.
Galvis has the slick glove of a player who looks like he's played at the major-league level for years. His offense still has a ways to go, but there's time for that. Galvis will likely not be a .300 hitter in the majors, but he has the potential to hit .250 or even .260, and if his early start continues to improve with time, then so should he.
It may not be the best available option for the Phillies, but it's one of the most practical, and that alone could be the ultimate difference-maker.
Promote Cesar Hernandez or Harold Garcia
Although slight, there is still a possible future for two of the Phillies' minor-league second basemen.
Cesar Hernandez is the currently the Phillies' best second base prospect, according to Baseball America. Having slotted him at No. 14 in the system, Hernandez looks to have a promising future. According to the Baseball America's 2012 Prospect Handbook, Hernandez is a line-drive hitter who could gain some power with added strength and has great bat speed. He can hit the ball in the gaps if he continues to improve his skills, and though a switch hitter, he's a much better lefty. However, he has little patience at the plate, striking out 80 times in 119 games last year at Clearwater, and often gets out by chasing pitches.
As for defense, Hernandez is considered at time to be "too stationary," but his arm is considered to be "above average" and his speed helps him both with base-stealing and defensive agility. The Prospect Handbook says scouts have compared him to Placido Polanco, which is whom I would have guessed had I not read it in the Handbook.
Then there's Garcia, whom the Handbook ranks as 19th in the Phillies' system. 2012 will be Garcia's ninth year in the Phillies' organization, as he was signed way back in 2004. Garcia is a wild card, since he had a 37-game hitting streak in 2010 but missed all but 12 games of the 2011 season after tearing his ACL, which ended his season.
Also a switch hitter, Garcia has the ability to hit the ball to whatever location he pleases, and he's got some pop in his bat as well. His defense was considered to be good as well, as was his speed, but anything goes after coming back from an injury as severe as an ACL tear. At this point in time, he's projected to top out as a solid major-league utility man.
Either of the two guys could have a breakout season in the minors and could be hailed as Utley's successor, as Hernandez once was and Garcia was more so before the 2011 season. Hernandez may have the upper edge, though, as he's 22 in May, whereas Garcia is 25 years old already. Regardless, it may not be too long before we see one of these two in the Phillies dugout.
Acquire Ben Zobrist
Is Ben Zobrist the best second baseman in major-league baseball? No, far from it. But might he be the easiest to acquire? Potentially.
Zobrist, who starts for the Tampa Bay Rays as their right fielder, also has substantial experience at second base. In fact, he's played more at second base than in the outfield in his career. According to range factor, his defense at second is slightly below average, but it would suffice if needed.
As for his offensive potential, Zobrist isn't a hitter for consistency. Aside from a 2009 campaign that saw him bat .297, Zobrist has topped out at .269 for a season, and while that was last year, it's not the most encouraging sign that an almost-31-year-old player is hitting .269. At that age players should be in their primes, if not leaving them. Unless Zobrist is a late bloomer, it should go downhill from here.
The good news is that Zobrist has shown flashes of power potential. In 2009 he hit 27 home runs, and last year he hit 20. He also hit in 91 RBI in each of those years, and his OPS was .822 last year and .948 in 2009. Although his OPS has dropped, he still has the OBP of a somewhat patient hitter and the SLG of a guy who hits a lot of doubles and more (he had 46 two-baggers last year, a career high).
But why Zobrist? Well, outfielders are not extremely difficult to replace, and since they have Jeff Keppinger starting at second, Zobrist could come to a team where his services at second are needed. He's still under contract through next season, so while he'd be a potential stopgap, the Phils would still get two years out of him assuming they acquired him sooner rather than later. Plus, his outfield versatility makes him more valuable to the oft-injured Phillies, who can use depth anywhere they can get it.
Zobrist is the only second baseman who's still slightly young with plus-side potential who will hit free agency within the next two years, at only age 33. If the Phils need to trade for a second baseman, Zobrist should be their guy.
Acquire/Sign David Wright
David Wright has been a nemesis of the Phillies for ages. With the end of his Mets tenure possibly on the horizon, though, that could change.
Wright has been one of baseball's best third basemen since he came into the league in 2004. He's accumulated 185 home runs, 730 RBI, a .301 average, and .890 OPS over his career, in addition to five All-Star nods, two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.
The start of the 2012 season has been no different. Although there were questions concerning both his durability and ability to even hit anymore because of an injury-plagued 2011 season, Wright has started off 2012 with a bang, hitting .571 with a .615 OBP, .857 SLG, 1.473 OPS, two home runs and five RBI. Yes, he has missed a couple of games with a slightly fractured pinkie finger, but he somehow avoided the DL and played in two of the three games against the Phillies this past weekend.
Wright has had better days defensively, as his defense is now considered to be right around league average for his career, but his offense seems to be coming back, and that could be a great thing for any team interested in him. While he isn't necessarily in a contract year, the Mets hold a $16 million club option on him for next season, but be careful. If he's traded, it becomes a player option, which means Wright can either accept the $16 million with his new team (a big financial burden on said team) or decline it, entering free agency as the best third baseman available. The latter option would seem like the better option for Wright.
Wright could be the answer to the Phillies' prayers. They have lacked that All-Star third baseman since Mike Schmidt, and while one could argue Placido Polanco has done a decent job, he's lost himself due to injury over the last few years. Wright's offensive and defensive potential are extremely high, and being only 30 years old headed into next season, he's still got some youth on his side.
It would be questionable whether to trade for him or to just wait it out and sign him as a free agent, but regardless, a Wright deal could be a blessing for this team. If the Phillies can gather the funds to sign him, do it, but only at the right price (no pun intended).
If there was one thing Ed Wade did right during his tenure as the Phillies' GM (aside from bringing in Charlie Manuel), it was that he knew how to draft and raise players to become big-league stars. Well, for the Phillies, anyway (sorry, Astros fans).
Wade drafted Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Pat Burrell, to name a few. Had it not been for Wade, the Phillies' offensive run of 2007 and 2008 might not have happened, at least not in the same way. Wade drafted these players who are now (or were) the core of this Phillies team, and though in the cases of Howard and Utley they're now hurt, back in their heyday they were MVP-caliber players.
Now that Ruben Amaro, Jr.'s taken the reins from Pat Gillick, he's become responsible for bringing in more minor-league talent. And while he may have done so, he has shipped off the team's top prospects in trades each of the last three years (and his first three as GM) for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. And while nobody on the major-league roster regrets those trades, as all three players did well in Philadelphia in some capacity, and some of the prospects traded have developed into top prospects for other teams, such as Travis d'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton.
None of those guys would have helped at second base, but they would have lightened the load on the Phils' current players in addition to making the team younger. With an aging roster that trends further downhill offensively as the years go by, they need any youth they can get, and that's why drafting talent and bringing it up is so important. Ask Chuck LaMar why he left the Phillies for the Blue Jays.
Amaro needs to draft somebody with high offensive upside potential. Whether a second baseman or a player at another scarce position—such as third base, shortstop, or catcher—the Phillies really do need to restock their farm system this time, but they need to do so with the draft. Amaro has to take advantage of the fact that he has hundreds of players to choose from, and he needs to find at least 20 that could or will become major-league players.
There is no youth on this team because of trades. Those trades have been nice. However, the consequences have been and will be dire, and that trend needs to change now.
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