Utley: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Every team should be required to have at least some level of controversy every spring and for the Phillies, theirs may be brewing. Maybe it's the doubtful, long-suffering fan in me coming out to rear its ugly head, but I can see the storm clouds of controversy on the horizon. Submitted for your approval; Chase Utley making the Phillies roster out of spring training. How say you? Yay or Nay? Feel free to follow along at home as our story of controversy and intrigue unravels.

First, the background to our story. Our lead character looks not unlike a surfer dude, but perhaps, that's just because we all know he's from California. To Larry Bowa, John Vukovich and a growing number of his teammates, he is Dirtball. That nickname has grown out of his affinity for playing the game in dirt. Memories of guys like Lenny Dykstra and Phil Garner come to mind watching Utley work his magic in the field and running the bases. He plays with the knowledge that he doesn't have to wash his uniform, so it doesn't matter how dirty he gets. Utley has pushed Vukovich's stamina to the limit this spring, working with the coach on ground balls, double-plays and every other part of playing secondbase. That's just the way Utley has been since the day the Phillies picked him with their 1st choice in the 2000 draft. The Phillies wanted him to switch to thirdbase for the 2002 season; no problem. Then, they wanted him to switch back to secondbase and play in the Arizona Fall League; no problem. Now, they may want him to give up – temporarily – playing everyday and be a bench player at the major league level; no problem. This, my friends, is where our story really begins.

The Phillies have some job openings. The starting rotation was hit with an injury to Brandon Duckworth. That necessitated moving either Joe Roa or Hector Mercado from the bullpen to the rotation, but Mercado was weak as a starter this spring, so Roa got the job. Plus, another injury (actually, just a continuation of the old injury) to Turk Wendell opened another spot in the rotation, prompting Larry Bowa to think about just leaving the spot open and going with 11 pitchers instead of 12. With the injury to Jason Michaels, that leaves a spot for another position player. Not a full-time job, mind you, but a job.

Chase Utley is impressive. He's going to be a really, really good major league secondbaseman (unless they move him back to third somewhere down the line, then he'll be a really, really good thirdbaseman). With Utley getting just over 1,000 at bats at the minor league level, the Phillies don't need to push him to the majors, even if it is just for a couple weeks. Can't you see it now? It's time to demote Utley, but he's been the Phillies best pinch-hitter through the first couple weeks of the season. Now what, do you keep him in the majors playing part-time or send him back to AAA to play full-time? Oh, and maybe Placido Polanco is only hitting .212 at the time. Do you keep Utley around to push Polanco? Do you bench Polanco to let Utley play everyday? Or, do you say "Utley was only supposed to be here for a couple weeks, it's time for us to give him change for the tolls and send him back to Scranton"? Perhaps, the controversy wouldn't be so bad if there weren't other alternatives.

Is Mike Lieberthal really healthy? I mean really, truly healthy? Don't you think he might need a day off here and there to rest that weakened pelvic region that he's got? Why not keep a third catcher for a couple weeks and see how strong Lieberthal really is? Jesse Levis and Marcus Jensen are both hanging around and both have some major league experience. Having a third catcher allows veteran Todd Pratt to pinch-hit with more frequency and he hasn't done a bad job in that role since he came back to the Phillies.

A bench job, even if it is temporary, isn't the place for Chase Utley. Get him the at bats he needs at AAA and make a move further down the road. If Polanco struggles or is hurt during the season, maybe you make a change then and insert Utley as the everyday secondbaseman. Or, maybe a trade opportunity opens up and Polanco is sent elsewhere. If nothing else, certainly a September call up would be in order for Utley. Those are legitimate times to bring Utley along, now isn't.

Utley: Should He Stay Or Should He Go? On this one, the Baseball Rat says he should go! (for now).


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