Philadelphia Phillies: Is Luis Castillo the Man To Replace Chase Utley?

Bruce SarteCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2011

Will Utley play at all in 2011?
Will Utley play at all in 2011?Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Chase Utley's Bum Knee

In spite of the positive spin the Philadelphia Phillies and Chase Utley are putting on his pained knee, he has been diagnosed with patella tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation, and is now heading to see a rehab specialist because the team is afraid to have his knee cut open—and rightly so. 

Anyone who has ever had knee surgery will tell you how, no matter what work is done inside, the knee is never the same.  Rehab is always a good first choice.

However, the fear is that this is nothing more than a continuation of the injury from last season, and the knee will never be the same anyway. 

Knee issues caused the Phillies' star second baseman to miss 47 games last season.  This injury is likely to cause Utley to miss several weeks of the season in the most optimistic of estimations.

So what is the answer for the Phillies?


Is Luis Castillo the Man To Fill the Utley void?

Wow.  I'll respond with a huge "maybe" and a quick follow-up of probably not

The New York Mets released Castillo on Friday, and as soon as Castillo cleared waivers, the Phillies pounced with a minor-league deal that offers him the opportunity to win the job but doesn't leave him a lot of time to do so. 

It's a good news bad news kind of situation.

The good news is, at the very least, Castillo can offer some bench help in the infield and possibly reclaim his swagger in the infield.  He has 370 career stolen bases and is a .290 career hitter.  

The bad news is that he hit .235 last season in only 86 games and has a recent history of knee issues.  Scouts who have been watching Castillo say he's lost his speed and quickness, which are essentially his strengths. 

He did, however, hit .302 only two seasons ago.  What it boils down to is a low-risk, possibly high-reward situation for the Phightins. 


Why Not Michael Young? 

There were some rumors swirling about a Joe Blanton for Michael Young trade to fix the Utley gap.  It's a great idea, and I thought of it too.  Word from the Phillies' camp was that the biggest issue was salary. 

The Phillies structured Cliff Lee's deal so that they would just stay under the luxury tax threshold.  If the Phillies traded away Blanton and his $8 million, they would still have to assume the $16 million owed this year (and for two more years) on Young's contract, which would push them over the limit and mean they would be saddled with the luxury tax, costing them millions more on top of it all. 

It comes down to economics.


Other Options

My opinion is that Wilson Valdez should be the favorite to be the opening day second baseman.  He has hit .439 (18-for-41) with three doubles, one home run and six RBI this spring.  He also played well last season, filling in for the injured Phils.   

Other guys vying for the job this spring include: Josh Barfield, Pete Orr, Michael Martinez and Delwyn Young.  

Barfield has hit .344 (11-for-32) with three doubles, one triple and three RBI.  Orr has hit .333 (12-for-36) with three doubles, three triples and two RBI.  Martinez has hit .292 (14-for-48) with three homers, two home runs and six RBI.  Young—who is more of an outfielder than a second baseman—has hit .292 (14-for-48) with two doubles, one home run and three RBI.