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MLB Philadelphia Phillies

How Does Second Baseman Chase Utley Fit Into Team’s Plans for Future?

Howard Smith – US PRESSWIRE

As part of an offseason series, I’ll be reviewing each player on the Philadelphia Phillies and how they fit into the team’s plans for the future. This is the third such article in the series.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the Philadelphia Phillies without Chase Utley. That may be the case though after the 2013 season.

Utley’s seven-year, $85 million contract extension with the team expires after ’13, and he’s missed enough games with injuries recently that there’s no guarantee the team will re-sign him. He didn’t become a full-time player until age 26 and injuries started derailing his career as recently as his age-33 campaign.

Utley missed 59 games in 2011 and 79 games in 2012 with chronic knee problems. He still rebounded this past year to hit .256 with 11 home runs, 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts, and a .793 OPS. Coupled with his elite base running skills and terrific defense at second base, Utley accounted for 3.2 wins above that of a replacement player.

That translates to about 6.3 over a full season, a figure that would rate Utley among the most valuable players in the National League had he played all of 2012.

Utley picked up his pace down the stretch, batting .304 with a .416 on-base percentage over his final 23 games. He had just five extra-base hits during that span but drove in 16 runs, drew 14 walks, and was hit by four pitches.

His second-half numbers (.258/.374/.431, .805 OPS) were significantly better than his brief first-half numbers (.235/.278/.412, .690 OPS), and don’t forget he didn’t have time in spring training for the second consecutive season.

Utley may not play second base in 2013 given the development of 22-year old Freddy Galvis. Galvis struggled at the plate in place of Utley last year but he’s much quicker on the double play, and the Phillies’ best option defensively is to have Galvis as the second part of the double play combination with Jimmy Rollins.

But then that would leave Utley out of the mix, and the Phillies would never bench Utley for Galvis’ anemic bat.

Utley has tried to learn to play third base, taking a lot of groundballs at the position down the stretch of the season. Whether he actually has the arm strength and can make a successful transition to the position by 2013 remains to be determined.

It’s likely Utley won’t be able to pull that off though, which is a shame because the Phillies need a third baseman, whether it’s via free agency or a trade.

Utley will probably play second base regularly in 2013 and the odds (as of now) are that Galvis will simply provide the team with a stellar backup at either second base or shortstop should Utley or Rollins get injured.

The future of Utley in Philly revolves totally around the health of his knees. If he can bounce back and play at least 135-140 games in 2013, the Phillies will definitely want him back for 2014 and beyond, although it would be at a reduced salary from the $15 million he’ll be making next year.

If Utley’s play falters and he continues to experience injury problems, he might not be back. He might retire, given that he will be 35 when his contract expires. He might sign a short deal as a backup or platoon player. Logic would suggest though that Utley would go to the American League and serve as a designated hitter, given that he can still swing the bat very well.