Utley Ready to be Phillies' Team Leader

Chase Utley is the Phillies starting second baseman. There are many who believe that headline should have been written last season, but the young star had to wait his turn. Now, with Placido Polanco backing him up, Utley is not only ready to play everyday, but to be a team leader.

When the Phillies were investigating the prospects of trading for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher this winter, they found one name consistently being broached by other general managers: Chase Utley.

The 26-year-old second baseman wasn't on the market - after all, the team was letting free-agent Placido Polanco walk in order to give Utley the starting job. General manager Ed Wade even hailed Utley for a meeting at the end of the 2004 season to inform him that the job was his entering spring training.

But an interesting thing happened along the way. The Phillies, attempting to recover the first-round pick they sacrificed to sign free-agent pitcher Jon Lieber, offered arbitration to Polanco, and after a fruitless search for a decent multi-year deal, Polanco accepted.

That creates a situation where Polanco gets a demotion even though he hit .299 last season.

Could it be a little uncomfortable for Utley?

"It definitely creates an interesting situation," admitted Utley, who had 13 homers and 57 RBIs in 267 at-bats for the Phils last season. "We both understand that this is going to make (the team) better.

"My job doesn't change. I just need to go out and play and let the chips fall where they may. I'm not taking anything for granted."

Even though Utley's offensive game draws comparisons to Jeff Kent and Ryne Sandberg (a top second-base prospect and now Hall of Famer that the Phils did deal away), there is more behind the Phillies' firm decision to make him untouchable. On a team lacking vocal, fiery leaders, Utley brings an intensity the organization insists can grow into leadership.

Utley doesn't back away from that assertion, either.

"I'm not going to shy away from it," he said. "A great leader leads by example. We'll see how the year goes. I don't think there should be any problems."

Notes from Philly:

  • Jason Michaels and the Phillies are still trying to avoid arbitration. If they don't, both sides will plead their cases in front of the arbiter today (February 10) in Tampa.
  • After settling for green hats for several seasons, the Phillies will bring back their green St. Patrick's Day uniforms for their Grapefruit League game against the Devil Rays on March 17.
  • The Phillies report that their ticket sales for spring training are a few thousand seats ahead of last year's inaugural season at Bright House Networks Field, but there are limited tickets available for games against the Yankees (March 25) and Red Sox (March 28).
  • He said what? "For me it doesn't matter whether we're picked to finish first or last. It shouldn't change anything. I'm excited about the season. We had some rough times last year, but I'm anxious to get started." - Chase Utley, on prognosticators cooling on the Phillies.

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