Chase Utley is a ballplayer who should at the very least be respected and admired—even in the eyes of opposing fan bases.
A tireless worker, Utley is a rare breed of middle-infielder with the ability to hit for both power and average. Additionally, he is a very reliable defender and is known to raise his level of play at the largest of moments.
Unfortunately for the city of Philadelphia, this battler has another fight on his hands—though this one is not taking place between the white lines of Citizen’s Bank Park. It is instead an internal war with cartilage, bone and tendons in his balky right knee.
The Phillies already have lost promising rookie Domonic Brown, and are looking for ways to compensate for the loss of clutch slugger Jayson Werth.
Add in uncertainties over Raul Ibanez’ age and Jimmy Rollins’ injury history, and question marks have suddenly been placed next to one of baseball’s most imposing offensive attacks.
Utley is a tough man, and one who would refuse to let down his teammates under any circumstances. As such, let us assume he attempts to tough it out with injections and rehabilitation over the season’s opening months.
Here we are now in the middle of June, and the situation has simply deteriorated too far for Utley to ignore further. Doctors recommend a procedure that could have him ready for the postseason, but he is otherwise lost for the regular season.
Simultaneously, a struggling Chicago Cubs team is mired in fourth place in the NL Central and looking for a way to shed salary in a season lacking playoff contention.
Needing some added pop in a solid but inconsistent lineup, would the Phillies make a call to Jim Hendry for third base slugger Aramis Ramirez?
Current Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco is truly a second baseman by trade—earning two Gold Gloves in his time at the position in Detroit. He could very easily transition back to his old home to leave room for a power hitter at a traditional power position.
Philadelphia is far from a small-market team, and they will have virtually no issue taking on the then $7-8 million left on his deal (one that can be bought out for $2 million after the season). They would essentially be renting a quality hitter who can handle big cities in a risk-free scenario.
A team that has previously been exposed in the heart of their lineup by left-handers (Howard and Ibanez vs. Pettitte, Sabathia, Marte) would now have replenished the righty power they lost in Werth’s defection to Washington.
Their lineup would be more balanced, and they would have some added firepower to knock out a stubborn Giants team likewise loaded with pitching talent.
While the Phillies could potentially boast the best pitching staff since the 90s Atlanta Braves, there is nothing wrong with ensuring a few more runs will be thrown up on the scoreboard in postseason action.
Another option in this midseason scenario would be Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young, but the $32 million left on his deal beyond 2011 makes him an unrealistic and irresponsible trade target for Philadelphia.
The deal would also make sense for the other franchise involved, as the Cubs are looking to get younger and cheaper in some areas to entertain making a push for Albert Pujols’ services at first base.
Chicago could request a quality but unproven arm like Kyle Kendrick from an already crowded and star-studded rotation—while also discussing the inclusion of supplementary prospects.
An expiring contract attached to an aging player would not provide a large haul in return, but grabbing a back-end starter like Kendrick while receiving added payroll relief would be a solid move for the Cubs if in fourth place come June.
Hopefully this will not come into the equation for the Phillies in 2011, and perhaps Utley will make it through 140 plus games with consistent production in the middle of the lineup.
Vegas odds would likely not lean in favor of that scenario, however, and it is not unreasonable to expect a risk-free splash like this one to take place midseason.
Fans in Philadelphia should keep a very close eye on the standings in the NL Central throughout the early months of the season, as a dangerous veteran like Ramirez could be re-energized by a change of scenery and World Series contention.