Phillies scrap plans for Utley tryout at third this year
Team says six games not long enough to evaluate star at new position
MIAMI -- The Phillies have pulled the plug on the Chase Utley third base experiment.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel said Friday at Marlins Park that Utley will not play third base before the end of the season, leaving the team's future at the position murky. Utley initiated the idea of a move from second to third -- and had been working out there for weeks -- but the Phillies decided they could not make a credible evaluation about his ability to play there on a long-term basis in just six games.
"It's kind of on hold, I guess," Amaro said. "It's more of a matter of practicality and what's really best for the team overall. I think while having that option would be helpful, I don't know if it's really an option that's going to make us necessarily better."
That seems to put the Phillies in a tough spot.
Amaro has made it clear the free agent market for third basemen is not impressive. It is a list that includes Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen and Brandon Inge. The Phillies could try to trade for a third baseman, but good luck getting somebody like Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres. Internally, the Phillies seem to view Kevin Frandsen as a part-time player, while Freddy Galvis, who would have been the team's second baseman had Utley made the switch, has never played third base.
"It doesn't really change things all that much," Amaro insisted. "It can be revisited, with Chase being an option. It just doesn't make any sense for us to have him out there for six games and think that that's going to change our minds one way or another. It's not a dead issue. It's just kind of unfair to the player and to us to think we can make an evaluation in six games and say, 'OK, shazam, this guy can play.' That's not necessarily fair to him. We're not good enough scouts to make that determination."
Amaro and Manuel are meeting with players before the end of the season. They met Friday with Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
Amaro said Utley was OK with their decision to keep him at second.
"He's fine," Amaro said. "He only came to us because he thought it might help our club, because he knows it's an area of need."
Asked about his No. 1 priority this offseason, Amaro said, "I don't know if we have a No. 1. I think offense is important to us. I'd like to create some balance from the right side offensively. I think that's something that would help. Having a healthy Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] would help that, but he gets banged up so we have to be cognizant of that. Third base is an issue we have to deal with. I think while we have some very, very good arms in the bullpen, we'll keep an eye on that as well."
But Amaro also said the Phillies might need to be creative to fill some holes this offseason. Rather than maybe spending big money on the big name on the free-agent market, perhaps they will spend more judiciously.
"I think patience is going to be important throughout this offseason," he said. "And the reason that I say that is some of the opportunities that will present themselves ... none of the opportunities that present themselves, at least at first blush, are all that fantastic. I think we're going to have to, as far as the availability of all players, I think we're going to have to be creative to try to improve. There are only a few standout guys out there that would be potential free agents."
Maybe the Phillies look to Galvis to play third base. They had said Galvis would be the second baseman if Utley played third, so they could simply switch spots.
"He did work out there during Spring Training," Amaro said. "And overall, pretty good reviews on how he handled it. He didn't do it in any games. But the man went from short to second and was awesome. And now ... I don't know if it's that much of a stretch to move him to third base and not think he'd be a plus defender."
Amaro and Manuel said they would keep the door open on Utley trying third base again. Perhaps Utley will spend his offseason working out there and want to give it a shot in Spring Training.
"If you stop and think about it, he definitely has a big say in it," Manuel said. "He has to feel comfortable, really good about it. He would do anything to win, but ... we'll just see. It'll always be there if we want to do that."
But for now, the Phillies will go into the offseason looking for a third baseman.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.