Recent buzz around the Philadelphia Phillies has shifted from the playoffs to the 2013 starting lineup.
Manager Charlie Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro have hinted (via CSN Philly) that Chase Utley will play third, which means someone new—possibly Michael Bourn—will patrol centerfield. In addition, the Phils may be looking for a quality reliever.
Do they really think that Utley can play third base? Since their championship year in 2008, the Phillies have been a premier defensive club. The middle with Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino was awesome. It was obvious this year, with Gold Glover Placido Polanco shelved and Gold Glover Victorino traded, that the defense would struggle. It certainly contributed to their down year.
Utley at third will be more than a work in progress. Seeing him charging a slow grounder and throwing off of his right foot could be scary to watch and not just because of his bad wheels. Granted, he is unmatched in grit and determination, but he has never really been a Russian ballet dancer in the field. As a minor leaguer in 2002, he committed 28 errors at the hot corner. His defense at second the last few years has been good, not great.
Utley's smooth compact swing is a thing of beauty, but has anyone ever watched him go sliding into a base? It is amazing that, with his troubled legs, he is still able to play at all. Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez once called Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer "The Mechanical Man." That label could easily be applied to Utley: a great all-around player but far from the Mikhail Baryshnikov of baseball.
The Phils plan to use Freddy Galvis at second, who is a superb second baseman but also a convicted "roider," which may affect his already suspect .226 average. However, his 24 RBI in 58 games was impressive.
The outfield has been less than mediocre on offense and defense. Dom Brown and John Mayberry look physically impressive as corner outfielders, but looks can be deceiving.
Brown brings back memories of former Mets outfielder George Theodore on defense, but we are still waiting to see the power numbers. His batting average is currently at .241 with four home runs in 158 at-bats. Mayberry, who struggles going back on balls on defense, is hitting .255 with 14 home runs in 415 at-bats.
Putting Michael Bourn in center won't really do much to counter that mediocrity. Josh Hamilton would be a better free agent to pursue, but the Phillies do not want another Howard-like contract. Hamilton, a true student of the game and someone who isn't afraid to speak his mind, would end up pulling his hair out after watching Charlie Manuel's decision making on a daily basis. Besides, Hamilton will have more alluring offers from some other baseball denizens of the Northeast.
A quality reliever may also be on the wish list, but the bullpen has actually rebounded nicely. Jeremy Horst, Phillippe Aumont, and Justin De Fratus have shown excellent potential. They all throw hard and have been impressive in their brief tenure. If Josh Lindblom and Antonio Bastardo can re-find their groove, they will accompany Jonathan Papelbon nicely. Papelbon has had a nice year with 36 saves, a 2.30 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. The bullpen should be fine.
Add in Roy Halladay's health concern and 2013 is bound to be an interesting year. With the aforementioned changes, there won't be any real change at all. Let's hope that there is more to the rumor mill than what we have heard so far.
With Ruben Amaro, one never knows. The former major leaguer and Stanford grad has proven this before. Maybe Josh Hamilton will come to the City of Brotherly Love.
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