03/11/11 4:45 PM ET
Phils confident they can win without Utley
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
Chase Utley stayed back.
He has not made a single bus trip or played in a single game since Spring Training started, and there are no indications it is going to happen anytime soon. The Phillies said Utley is sidelined indefinitely with patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation in his right knee. The Phillies are searching for alternative treatments -- a cortisone injection March 4 offered no relief -- although surgery remains a possibility.
Utley almost certainly will open the 2011 season on the disabled list, which means somebody has to take his place.
Here is a look at some options:
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Raul Ibanez is the most likely candidate to hit third, which has been Utley's spot for years. Ibanez hit third in 20 games last season. He hit .350 (28-for-80) with four doubles, three home runs, 15 RBIs and a .943 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
But who will play second base?
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has the task of putting the 25-man roster together.
Asked Wednesday what he might be doing to replace Utley, he said, "Nothing. We're just trying to get him well. That is our priority. We believe that he is going to be playing. We don't know exactly when he is going to be playing for us, but I expect him to be playing for us at some point."
Fans continue to inquire about Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young, who has asked to be traded. The Rangers and Phillies spoke about Young's availability in the offseason, but there is no match at the moment -- although that can change.
Young is owed $48 million over the next three seasons, which is a big factor here. The Phillies already have a payroll of more than $165 million, which is pushing Major League Baseball's $178 million luxury tax threshold. First-time offenders of the luxury tax pay a 22 percent tax. In other words, if the Phillies move $1 million over the threshold, they pay $220,000 in taxes.
The Phillies have no plans to break the threshold, so they would have to move significant salary to take on Young. Joe Blanton is owed $17 million over the next two seasons, but for the moment, the Phillies plan to keep him in the rotation.
It also remains unclear what the Rangers might want for Young. It could be a big prospect or two. It could be an everyday player.
"We think [Utley] will be healthy enough sooner rather than later," Amaro said.
If Amaro truly believes that and if Utley returns sooner rather than later -- "sooner" could mean months, nobody really knows -- it might not make sense to trade top talent for a short-term solution who will be fighting for playing time upon Utley's return.
There are not many other affordable external solutions. There is a decent chance the New York Mets release Luis Castillo, but he hit just .235 in 86 games last season.
"Right now, I think we have the talent in here to go with, and that's where we're at," Amaro said.
That is why Wilson Valdez is expected to be the Opening Day second baseman. He hit .258 with four homers and 35 RBIs in 111 games last season, mostly filling in for Jimmy Rollins and Utley.
Six different players have started at second base in the team's first 15 Grapefruit League games: Valdez (four), Pete Orr (three), Josh Barfield (three), Delwyn Young (three), Brian Bocock (one) and Cesar Hernandez (one). Rule 5 Draft pick Michael Martinez also has played second base.
Bocock suffered a wrist injury earlier this week. The Phillies just reassigned Hernandez to Minor League camp.
That leaves five internal candidates: Valdez, Orr, Barfield, Young and Martinez.
It again would be surprising if anybody other than Valdez is the Opening Day second baseman, unless Amaro changes course and makes a trade. Amaro has changed course a few times in the past after saying trades or free-agent signings were unlikely.
Orr is hitting .167 (3-for-18) with two doubles, one triple and two RBIs in 10 games. Barfield is hitting .500 (7-for-14) with one double and one triple in seven games. Young is hitting .333 (12-for-36) with two doubles and three RBIs in 14 games. Martinez is hitting .160 (4-for-25) with one homer and two RBIs in 14 games.
"Young's more of an offensive player than he is a defensive player, but that's where Charlie [Manuel] gets the big bucks," Amaro said. "He'll mix and match and try to put the right people together."
Nobody internally can truly replace Utley, but the Phillies think they have enough offense and certainly enough starting pitching to win while he is out.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.