By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The general consensus is that Chase Utley really hurt the Phillies this year. The narrative is that Utley’s silence about the severity of his knee problems and the pain those problems caused him, prevented the Phillies from making decisions that would have put the team in a better position to compete this year. That his decision to not tell anyone his knees were going to prevent him from playing (if this is, in fact, what happened) was selfish, and hamstrung the organization.
I say this is nonsense. It was annoying, but it didn’t really matter.
Let’s play Phillies make believe, for the sake of discussion.
Let’s make believe that instead of the Phillies organization, the media, and Phillies fans being completely in the dark about the severity of Chase Utley’s injury coming into this season, let’s suppose we knew everything. All of us. Let’s imagine we knew that Utley’s chronic knee condition (which we did know existed) would keep him out until June 27th.
What would the Phillies have done differently if this was the case? Probably nothing.
I asked the question on Twitter, and got many responses that if the Phillies knew Utley wasn’t coming back until June 27th, they wouldn’t have traded Wilson Valdez. If this is the case, we’re probably pretty lucky. Freddy Galvis had an OPS of .617 this season, while Wilson Valdez is at .520 this season with a career OPS of .613. Galvis is also a better fielder than Valdez. I guess we could have had Valdez start tonight’s game on the mound instead of Valdes.
Someone else suggested that the Phillies could have gone after Ryan Theriot. Theriot is a solid veteran who would have done a nice job filling in. The problem is, his OPS of .613 is also lower than Galvis’ was, and Galvis is a better fielder than Theriot as well.
The difference between Utley and his replacement at second base, whomever it is, is very large. The difference between his potential replacements, is not. In fact, Galvis’ play, plus the knowledge that he is probably MLB-ready, put the Phillies in a better position than they would have been.
Many suggested as well, that the Phillies would have been more diligent in adding a bat to the outfield, and Michael Cuddyer might be a Phillie because of it. This is just a guess, but I don’t believe that three months of Chase Utley would have convinced the team to sign Cuddyer to a three-year, $31 million dollar deal. It might have been a good move, but it’s certainly debatable whether Utley’s absence would have changed this course. The Phillies seemed destined for Pence/Victorino/MayPierre, regardless of Utley.
The Phillies made mistakes this off-season, there is little doubt in that. Papelbon’s contract, re-signing Rollins, and signing Laynce Nix to a two-year deal, may all come back to bite them. But those moves were likely made independently of whatever Utley’s situation was. Utley’s absence might have even made it more likely that they re-sign Rollins.
We may be looking for someone to blame for all of this. Ruben Amaro Jr., as well, might be looking for someone to blame, but it’s not Utley.
Utley’s silence and the confusion regarding his injury was frustrating, to the team and to us. But it didn’t change much.