Part Two: How to fix the Phillies.
It may be apparent that Chase Utley can no longer be the Phillies starting second baseman.
For two reasons.
First, the Phillies need to clean house. Not just fill in here and there, but trade Cole Hamels to shore up their outfield around Ben Revere (26); create a young and hungry infield of Franco (22), Galvis (24), Hernandez (24), and Ruf (28); and use trades and the free agent market to get a number one catcher and build a rotation.
They need to make some hard-fast decisions on Cody Asche (24) and NOT leave him at third and use Franco to fill in at first.
Plus, they need to dump salary so they have something to spend, and not be up against the payroll ceiling like they've been in the immediate past.
If they do that, they won't lose a 100 games in 2015. Comprende?
Second, Chase was the starting second baseman for the NL at the All Star game, for which he got an extra $50,000 — as stipulated in his contract. Had the All Star vote been taken in the second half of the season, it could very well have been the Pirates' Neil Walker starting at second, not Utley.
In the second half, Utley hit .239 and went the last 40 games homer-less — the longest homer-less stretch of his career.
Clearly, at this point — he can't drive the ball off his knees and his ability goes south as the season wears on. A fresh Chase Utley is a dangerous Chase Utley, i.e., his first half numbers. A tired and sore Chase Utley goes the final 40 games hitting .239, without a home run.
Now stay with me on this.
There's just one conclusion — and it's not to get rid of him. The Phillies have to man-up and tell Chase he gets a hundred at bats, in a hundred games, give or take a few — as a pinch hitter and spot starter.
But here's the thing. The contract put in front of Chase prior to the 2014 season envisioned him at second through 2018, another error of misjudgment. Chase's contract has vesting options and one of the options is 500 plate appearances. Therefore, if the option doesn't vest — if he doesn't get 500 plate appearances — the club can reduce his salary considerably.
Brilliant thinking on the Phillies' part. Knowing that he's a player who need's rest during the season, what do they do? Create a vesting option of 500 plate appearances. Really, really brilliant!
Chase Utley (37 in December) could be the best pinch hitter in the National League. In 100 at bats in 100 games, he'd be fresh and dangerous. And you know Chase would work at it until he IS the best. That's what kind of player he is. The kind of player he isn't — at least not anymore — is a regular who will get 600 plate appearances a season (he had 654 in 2014.)
It's too much for his body.
One only has to go as far as the broadcast booth to see a great left handed pinch hitter, Matt Stairs, a pinch hitter for hire. Stairs played for 12 different teams since 1992, retiring in 2011. He holds the MLB record for most pinch hit homers — 23.
Playing for the Phillies in the 2008 LCS against the Dodgers, Stairs pinch hit home run in game four off the Dodger's reliever Jonathan Broxton, is considered the most memorable pinch hit home run in Phillies' history.
Pinch hitting is nearly a lost art in baseball, especially in the American League, where pitchers don't bat. But there is still room for a dangerous left handed bat late in the game in the NL. If you want to get technical about it, the DH in the American League is a pinch hitter who get's 3-4 pinch hit attempts a game.
What do DHs do between at bats? Stretch, hit in the cages, watch video, watch opposing pitchers, and get ready for their next "pinch hit appearance."
It would be no different with Utley — although he'd get only one shot — and he could enter late in the game at second or first.
It doesn't make sense to pound Utley's knees game after game. Here's a way to get younger at second, and at the same time keep a Philly favorite who would energize and excite the crowd late in the game.
Okay, you are at the park on a warm July evening, the Phillies — just three behind first place Washington — in the seventh against Miami, no score, Galvis on third and Ruf on second. THE best PA announcer in MLB, Dan Baker, announcing the pinch hitter.
Go ahead Dan take if from here... now batting for Diekman,number 26, CHASE UTLEY
That was great, Dan. Now can you add fresh and rested?
Sure, Ron, no problem.
Now batting for Diekman, the fresh and rested, number 26, CHASE UTLEY.
Dan, thanks, that was great.
Comments to: Philly@ron-costello.com