Utley to Third Base? Say What?
He speaks frequently with Ruben Amaro Jr. about the future of the Phillies. Looking into the near future, Utley is smart enough to know they need an everyday third baseman next season. The Phillies will not pick up Placido Polanco’s $5.5 million club option, Kevin Frandsen is not viewed as an everyday player, Jimmy Rollins is not moving from shortstop, Carlos Ruiz is going to remain behind the plate and the free-agent market is less than desirable, unless Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen or Brandon Inge get folks excited.
So that is why Utley asked Amaro a very interesting question Monday.
“Can I play third base?” he said.
“Can you?” Amaro replied.
“I don’t know, can I?” he said.
The experiment began early this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park with Utley taking ground balls at third base. Nobody was supposed to see it, but 94 WIP had been broadcasting its afternoon show at the time, saw Utley, broadcast it and tweeted it. And so Utley stood on the field for a couple minutes before tonight’s game against the New York Mets and reluctantly discussed it.
“I figured I’d give it a try, get back over there, get my feet wet, just get a feel for that position,” Utley said. “I played there probably 10 years ago. It went so-so. I thought it could be an option in the future. Again, it’s way too early to have an opinion either way on how it’s going to go. I may take some more ground balls there in the future, but who knows what the future has in store? But I think if I’m able to play over there it could create some more flexibility as far as the organization is concerned. It may not. It’s just something I wanted to give a try. I may do it again.”
Utley played third base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2002, the last time he has played there. He committed 28 errors in 340 chances in 123 games at third. He had problems making the throw, although he improved late in the season. But once the Phillies signed free agent David Bell to a four-year contract in the 2002 offseason it ended any thoughts Utley would become their third baseman.
But Utley wants to give it a shot again, although nobody Wednesday could say how much of a shot it would be. Utley would not say how frequently he would take ground balls before games. Amaro would not say if Utley would play a game at third base before the end of the season, although it would be puzzling not see him play there at all.
After all, this was the first day.
But boy is it interesting.
“It just makes sense,” Amaro said. “If the player is willing to give it a shot or contemplate it, why not? What’s the downside? There’s no real downside. No idea (if it’s realistic). But it’s worth exploring if he’s willing to do it.”
Perhaps ideally for the Phillies, Utley plays competently at third base and Freddy Galvis becomes the team’s second baseman. Amaro even hinted that in a perfect world Double-A Reading third baseman Cody Asche continues to develop and is ready to join the big leagues in 2014. Maybe Utley moves back to second base at that point, assuming the Phillies and Utley work out a contract extension. (Utley, who rejected the idea of moving into the outfield, becomes a free agent after next season.)
But how much will the Phillies know about Utley before the end of this season? It would seem to be a considerable risk to enter the offseason not truly knowing how well Utley can handle the position, but going into Spring Training 2013 with the expectation he will be the man at third.
“Of course it’s a risk,” Amaro said. “But it also may be a great option. It doesn’t cost us anything to have it be an option for us or at least explore it. … Chase is kind of a different animal. If Chase tells me and proclaims himself ready to do something, unless he can’t prove it you have to kind of believe him.”
Utley told the Phillies he would be healthy to start the season, but late in Spring Training his balky knees betrayed him and he did not rejoin the team until June 27. Amaro said Wednesday what Utley would not say, but certainly could be an impetus for this idea: playing third base could be easier on Utley’s knees. There is less ground to cover. He does not have to worry about base runners upending him trying to break up double plays.
“He feels very good right now,” Amaro said. “You watch him play. He’s moving good. Obviously as he gets older, the wear and tear may make it a little more difficult. Maybe something to think about as far as a new position. But right now he feels very good. He did this not because he doesn’t feel good. He’s trying to alleviate a problem.”
The Phillies have a hole at third base. Utley could fill it nicely.
“It was just something I wanted to do,” Utley said. “I may pursue it a little bit more.”