Thursday, March 10, 2011

Now is it time for the Phillies to worry about Utley?

By Chris Ruddick

Philadelphia, PA - The Philadelphia Phillies have done a good job at brushing aside questions about Chase Utley's balky right knee. They've insisted that he was fine, even though he had yet to play in a spring training game and last weekend received a cortisone shot in the knee for what the team was calling patellar tendinitis.

Well, now they have to start talking, because Utley's knee did not respond to the shot and the team is now searching for additional options that at this time do not include surgery.

Surgery seems inevitable at this point, though, and the likelihood that he will not head north with the team for Opening Day has become a very realistic possibility.

Phils general manager Ruben Amaro said that he wouldn't rule out Opening Day for Utley, then downplayed the importance of players being ready for the start of the season. So in other words, Philadelphia, be prepared to hear Wilson Valdez's name announced on April 1.

It's definitely not the news you want to hear from a team whose fan base has already started camping out on Broad Street for their World Series Championship parade.

I'm not sure if you heard, but the Phillies have "Four Aces". It was already going to be those pitchers who were going to carry them this season. The lineup underachieved last season and the team still won a major league-best 97 games. That happened because of a terrific pitching staff which only got better with the addition of lefty Cliff Lee this winter.

However, this is a lineup that was already going to be missing Jayson Werth. Now it appears the Phillies' three-hole hitter could be on the shelf for some time. Aside from Ryan Howard, who scares you in that lineup?

Of course, Michael Young's name is going to come up now. The Phils were linked to him early on in the process when the Rangers started taking offers. It seemed like a head scratchier then, but now not so much.

If the Utley situation is as dire as some people are making it out to be, then Young makes perfect sense. In fact, the Phillies wouldn't even skip a beat. Acquiring him may not be realistic, though. The team is already above its payroll threshold, and adding Young and the remaining $48 million left on his deal just doesn't seem like a very Phillies' move.

Then again, neither did adding Lee this winter.

You could also make the argument that bringing in Young is also insurance if Jimmy Rollins bolts as a free agent after the season. Actually, it's not insurance at all. Young is a better player than Rollins. Another sub-.250 season from Rollins and the Phils might be begging him to return to the West Coast.

I suspect the Phils will ride Valdez in the short term. Perhaps they add a veteran like David Eckstein, who is still looking for a job. And no, I doubt they will call the New York Mets about Luis Castillo.

The best case scenario for all involved here is that rest and rehab do the trick for Utley. The absolute worst-case scenario is that this becomes a situation like the one the Mets had with Carlos Beltran.

The more likely scenario is that Utley will need the knee scoped and miss the first month or so of the season. This is an injury, though, that will likely hinder him all year.

Ironically, I asked someone earlier in the week who would be more productive this season: Utley or Beltran? The guy laughed at me for even bringing something like that up.

It doesn't sound so crazy now, does it?

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