It appears as if the Philadelphia Phillies might not have an internal candidate to take over at third base next season after all.
According to an article by Jim Salisbury on CSNPhilly.com, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. and the Phils have decided that second baseman Chase Utley will not play third base in the team’s final games of this season, and a move to the position next season doesn’t look likely. Amaro said:
After further review, we think this makes sense. He’s doing well over there. But in retrospect, we think it would be difficult to make an assessment on watching him play six games. We’re not good enough scouts to make an assessment on six games.
David Murphy wrote on philly.com last month of Utley’s talking to Amaro about playing third base, and the five-time All-Star had been taking ground balls at the position during the season’s final weeks.
If Utley moved over to third base, Freddy Galvis could have been a candidate to start at second base again next season, with Kevin Frandsen providing depth off the bench.
However, with Utley likely staying at second base next season, the final year of his contract, the Phillies’ 2013 infield is no longer guaranteed to feature players already on the roster.
As Salisbury’s article mentions, both Frandsen and Galvis will see time at third base during spring training, and a player may be acquired this offseason to take over at the position.
Potential free-agent third basemen include Kevin Youkilis, Brandon Inge and Maicer Izturis, while a player such as Chase Headley may be available on the trade market.
This grouping of available third basemen likely played a large role in the Phils’ decision to at least test Utley out at the position prior to games. For a position typically held by power hitters, only five qualified National League third basemen currently have at least 20 home runs and a batting average of at least .280.
Despite missing a considerable amount of time during the first half of the season, once again due to injury, Utley has bounced back to bat .262 with 11 home runs and 41 RBI in 78 games.
Moving Utley to third base would not have come without its share of risks, such as his ability to throw runners out from across the field after spending his first nine major league seasons playing second base.
Furthermore, the Phillies would likely have then used Galvis at second base, who batted .226 in 58 games before missing the rest of the season due to a back injury and suspension.
But where does Galvis play now?
As previously mentioned, Galvis could play third base during spring training while competing with Frandsen and any other offseason acquisitions. But he would not bring the power that other third basemen have previously had to the position.
What if the Phillies acquire a third baseman during the offseason? The team would then have their infield set and no starting spot open for Galvis, who started at second base this season and was seemingly in line to start at the position again next season prior to the recent news relating to Utley.
Should the team be concerned that Galvis’ back injury could turn into a recurring injury?
As for the Phillies as a whole, third base could have been scratched off the team’s offseason wish list in terms of areas in need of big improvement if Utley had made the switch.
However, third base is now once again an area that needs to be addressed, in addition to the outfield and bullpen.
The Phils could have used any available payroll to go after one or two outfielders and another bullpen addition, stayed near the luxury tax threshold or at least under the $189 million mark for next season and avoided potentially having to offer more prospects in a deal for a third baseman.
If Utley comes to spring training healthy and plays next season the way he has since returning this year, the Phillies will once again have one of the best offensive second basemen in the NL. Utley’s 11 home runs this season ranks seventh in the league.
Utley’s offensive production will greatly benefit the Phils next season, regardless of which position he plays. However, the decision to keep him at second base, for the time being, firmly creates another position that needs to be addressed this offseason.
If Galvis can improve his offense and handle third base, or Frandsen is able to play better consistently on defense, the Phillies’ infield could still require little spending this offseason.
Having Utley on that infield on Opening Day is what’s most important.