March 9, 2011
Still In Denial...
I'm a big Chase Utley fan. The dude plays with a grit that we haven't seen since the Lenny Dykstra days. He sounds calm and cool every time he opens his mouth, he and his wife do a ton of volunteer work in the area, and he's not a half bad baseball player. So naturally I cringe every time I hear news of the knee injury that is keeping him off the playing field this spring.
In the past few years, some would say that Chase has been injury prone. That's not really the case, though. To me, injury prone is a player that has nagging injuries throughout his career. All of Chase's injuries are independent of one another. The hip injury at the end of 2008 still produced 33 HRs and his offseason surgery had him ready to go at the beginning of the following season. The thumb injury in 2010 was a fluke result of an errant slide into 2nd base. But this knee is a whole new animal.
I don't claim to be any sort of medical professional, but if there's anyone who has an idea what Chase is going through it's Brandon Inge. Apparently he's been talking to Utley in recent days, describing the patellar tendinitis procedure he went through about two years earlier. Inge played through the injury for a year, then had surgery in the offseason. According to his own words, he hasn't felt like himself until reporting to spring training a few weeks ago.
As disturbing as that news is, I may the only person left in the Delaware Valley who sees a glimmer of hope. When completely healthy, Chase is one of the top 2-3 2nd basemen in baseball. At times he can even be the best 2nd baseman of all time. His defense? One of the tops in the game according to fan graphs. His offense? Off the charts for a 2nd basemen as his closest similar player seems to be Jeff Kent (arguably the best offensive 2nd baseman ever). On a bum knee in 2009, Brandon Inge managed to play 161 games, hit 27 HR, and 84 RBI. His batting average was low, but Inge has never really been one for putting up a solid BA. Utley, on the other hand is.
My point? I probably have my blinders on, but I still have confidence that despite every report and the panic that is sweeping around the Philadelphia area and every fantasy baseball league in existence, Chase will be playing baseball for most of 2011. Even at 75% health this season, Chase Utley is more valuable than 90% of 2nd basemen ever to put on a Phillies uniform. As I understand it, there is no easy remedy for patellar tendinitis. Your options seem to be rest and surgery. Neither guarantee success. Knowing how Chase typically keeps himself in shape and generally takes care of his body, I think Spring Training is more of a formality for him than anything else. He's still taking daily batting practice and by all accounts hitting the ball as well as could be expected. Taking a few more active reps in the field this spring would be beneficial, but not entirely necessary. So with 22 days left in spring training, there is still more than enough time to let things sort themselves out. If Wilson Valdez suits up and takes the field on Opening Day, the world will not stop. He's proven to be a very solid defender, and seems to be improving with the bat. However, with that hard working, gritty style of play, I'm still holding out hope that Chase takes the Brandon Inge route and plays the season out.
MLBTradeRumors points out the potential plan B's and none of them are all that intriguing anyway. Naturally, Ruben Amaro has come out and stated that his concern is Chase's well being not only this year, but in years to come. Afterall, they have 3 more years and $45M+ wrapped up in him. As James from PhuturePhillies.com pointed out on Twitter this evening, all the statistics in the world seem to suggest 33 year old 2nd basemen with serious knee injuries, don't quite put up the same numbers we're used to seeing. I tend to hold out hope that Chase still has a lot left in the tank... but like I said, I'm probably just still in denial.