Philadelphia Phillies: If It's Surgery for Chase Utley, Go Get David Eckstein
The Phillies' march to the World Series hit a little bump in the road this week, as the team announced that second baseman Chase Utley is suffering from patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation in his knee.
Utley received a cortisone injection, which had no effect and surgery is becoming a more realistic possibility with each passing day.
Utley has come back from numerous physical issues ahead of schedule in the past, including tendinitis in his knee, but even Utley himself admits he can't play through this one and he has yet to appear in a spring training game.
"I think at this point, we're not trying to find the easy way out," he said.
"I'm trying to look at this in the big picture, and that's the frustrating part, because I think everyone that knows me best knows that the only place I'd rather be is on the field. So it is disappointing. But right now it's probably not in my best interests to be out there."
The Phillies are taking it easy with Utley, exploring every possible course of treatment, while not ruling him out for Opening Day. But if knee surgery is the likely outcome, which could sideline Utley for four to six weeks, why not go under the knife now with the start of the season three weeks away?
That's up to Utley and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., but for now, they'll continue to explore every "non-operative" option.
But if the Phillies do lose Utley for an extended period of time, who will take his place at second base?
As far as in-house candidates go, Wilson Valdez is currently listed at No. 2 on the Phillies' depth chart at second base. Valdez is having an excellent spring, batting .476 with a home run and an RBI in 21 at-bats.
Valdez, 32, appeared in 111 games for the Phillies last season and batted just .258 with four home runs. For the short term, Valdez isn't a bad option, but if he's forced into full-time duty, he gets exposed.
The Phillies had explored a trade for DH Michael Young, but while the their payroll pushes $160 million, it's unlikely they'd be willing to take on Young's salary. However, a trade package centered around Joe Blanton would probably get Young to Philly.
That scenario is probably a bit of overkill though.
The best and, quite frankly, most obvious option would be to go out and get David Eckstein, who is still floating amongst the offseason refuse.
Last season for the San Diego Padres, Eckstein batted .267 with a .321 on-base percentage in 116 games. A perfect example of a "gamer," Eckstein fits perfectly into the Phillies hard-nosed style of play.
He doesn't hit for power at all (just one home run last season), but he puts the bat on the ball (92.2 contact percentage in 2010) and he does well with runners in scoring position (.276 last season, .292 with RISP, two out).
If they need to replace Utley, who is the best option?
Not to mention his defense is excellent, even at age 36. Eckstein didn't commit a single error in 107 games at second base last season.
Having made just $1 million last season, Eckstein can be had on the cheap and serve as an excellent replacement for Utley, should he miss significant time this season.
For now though, Chase Utley is still the Phillies' second baseman and they still have time to figure out the best course of action to handle his injury.
One thing is for sure, the Philly offense can't afford to have Utley go down without a suitable replacement, and they may want to start looking at their options now.
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