Chase Utley's Hip Injury Leaves Hole for Phillies to Fill

Matt MatusekContributor INovember 24, 2008

The euphoria felt by Philadelphia Phillies fans after the dramatic World Series Championship has subsided as we approach the holiday season.  Aside from the Phils' reported interest in Matt Holliday and the looming Pat Burrell situation, there hasn't been much to talk about so far in the offseason.

Until Phillies fans found out that Chase Utley is going to be out until at least May of next season.

The All-Star second baseman was a vital part of the Phillies' 2008 postseason run, and he is arguably the best second baseman in baseball.  Not only is he above average in the field, the Phils also rely on him to drive in runs and set the stage batting in the number three spot, in front of Ryan Howard.   

Now that the Phils know their best hitter is going to be out of the lineup at the start of the season, they have to shore up the number five spot, which is the spot that Pat Burrell has occupied the last few years.

Part of the reason that Howard was so productive the last few years is because he had Utley in front of him and Burrell behind him, which meant that pitchers were forced to throw Howard at least some fastballs. 

If new General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was thinking about taking a "wait and see" approach about left field, he'd better think again. 

But first things first: Who is going to be playing second base when the season starts?  If Amaro Jr. doesn't sign a free agent infielder, then the most likely scenario would be to start Eric Bruntlett, who saw action at shortstop at the beginning of last year when Jimmy Rollins was injured. 

The Phillies did acquire Tadahito Iguchi toward the end of last season, but he is now a free agent.  But I wouldn't be shocked to see Iguchi signed and playing second base when the season opens.   

Perhaps more important is this question—who is going to be the Phillies' starting left fielder?  Last week the Phillies were rumored to be interested in Raul Ibanez, who has played the last number of years with the Seattle Mariners.  Ibanez had a very productive year for the Mariners in 2008, batting .293 with 23 homers, 43 doubles, and 110 RBI. 

If the Phillies do sign Ibanez, I think the batting order would look something like this:

Rollins, Jayson Werth, Ibanez, Howard, Shane Victorino, Pedro Feliz, Bruntlett, Carlos Ruiz.

The Phillies have been known to get off to slow starts in April and May, and the injury to Utley will do nothing to help that change.  However, the Phils should be riding high off their World Series win, so maybe that will give them some momentum heading into the 2009 campaign. 

After Rollins' injury early in the year in 2008, the Phils were able to hover around .500 until he came back.  If they are able to do something similar this year, they shouldn't be too far out of first place in the NL East to catch up.  After all, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.