It appears that the Philadelphia Phillies may have another option on the table when it comes to third base following this season.
According to an article by David Murphy on philly.com, Chase Utley and Phils’ general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. have recently spoken about the nine-year veteran, who has started 1,075 career major league games at second base, making the move across the diamond and playing third base at some point.
The article says that Utley fielded ground balls at third base today, and contains a quote in which he says playing third base could be a future option for him. Utley also talks about a potential move to third base as possibly giving the team as a whole more options.
“I think if I’m able to play over there it could create some more flexibility as far as the organization is concerned,” Utley said. “It may not. It’s just something I wanted to give a try.”
So, what kind of flexibility would a possible move to third base by Utley actually give the Phils?
For one, if Placido Polanco’s option is not exercised following this season, the Phillies will be left with Kevin Frandsen as their only third baseman. Frandsen has played great for the team since being called-up, batting .337 in 28 games. But would the team enter next season with Frandsen as their starter at third base?
Furthermore, Kevin Youkilis and Chase Headley may be the best available third baseman during the offseason, via free agency or a trade, respectively. However, both will likely cost the Phils, either in payroll spending or in the number of prospects asked for in a trade.
If the Phillies decide to move Utley to third base, Frandsen could then fill a reserve role while still seeing a number of starts to help Utley ease into his new position.
Meanwhile, what will the Phillies do with Freddy Galvis?
Galvis was starting regularly prior to his injury/suspension, so would the Phillies have him start the season at Triple-A or place him in a reserve role at the major league level? If Utley were to play third, Galvis could spend more time at second base. The Phillies would then have more power offensively from their third baseman and still receive above-average defense from their second baseman.
Murphy’s article also notes that the position change could help with Utley’s knee problems that have caused him to miss the starts of the past two seasons. Utley has yet to appear in a major league game at the position.
If Utley did move to third and an internal option was used at second base, the Phillies could then focus on improving their outfield and bullpen during the offseason.
Although the Phils still may not target any of the high priced free agent outfielders, having extra money to spend would help if a bidding war was started, or if a player was made available through a trade.
Or, the Phillies could choose to monitor their spending and wait until the player they desire becomes available rather than spending all available cash on this offseason’s free agent market.
Of course, this is all dependent on Utley and the Phillies agreeing to such a position change.
But with limited opportunities to upgrade third base available through free agency and trades, Utley may become the Phils’ best option at third base.
If the Phillies keep their payroll under $189 million next season, they will only have to pay the luxury tax one time before the threshold is raised. However, if the right players aren’t available, having spending money will do them no good.
But narrowing down their to-do list this offseason could help greatly.
The Phillies would have to take a risk if they went into next season with Utley as their third baseman without having seen him play there in a game. If the team is hesitant to spend big on a 34-year-old (as of Opening Day 2013) free agent in Youkilis, or deal more prospects while competing to acquire a third baseman who is made available during the offseason, the risk could be one worth taking.
If it works out, the Phillies would have saved money on their infield, and either used it to upgrade their outfield or kept it for the first available upgrade that appears on the trade market.
If it doesn’t work out, the Phillies could simply move him back to second base and use Frandsen at third while they use any money or prospects they saved to upgrade the position mid-season.
Such a position change could prove unnecessary if the Phillies would rather keep Utley at second base. But when a player such as Utley pitches an idea, the least the team could do is listen.