This week, the Daily News and High Cheese will be taking an in-depth look at the Phillies roster moving forward, breaking down the state of each position as it relates to the future and the present. In Tuesday's newspaper, Ryan Lawrence will look at the infield. Earlier today, we looked at first base. Now, let's move on to second base.
I. 2012 production, Phillies second basemen (NL rank out of 16 teams in parentheses)
AVG: .255 (11)
OBP: .325 (7)
SLG: .411 (2)
OPS: .736 (4)
HR: 17 (5)
RBI: 84 (2)
RS: 74 (12)
BREAKDOWN: There are two important distinctions to make when evaluating the state of the Phillies at second base. The first is the distinction between Chase Utley at his current level of performance and Chase Utley at his peak level of performance. The second is between Chase Utley at his current level and the average major league second baseman at his current level. Let's deal first with the latter category. Utley finished the season second among Phillies regulars with a .365 OBP and a .793 OPS. During his three-month stint on the disabled list, his replacement, Freddy Galvis, posted a .254 OBP and .617 OPS. In other words, the Phillies produced 11 percent more base runners out of the second base position with Utley there than they did with Galvis there. The aforementioned NL ranks show that the Phillies still have one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball…when Utley is in the lineup. The big question, of course, is how often will Utley be in the lineup next season, which is the last year of his contract. Can he maintain the level of production he displayed over the final three months of 2012 for all six months of 2013? Utley and the Phillies have expressed confidence that he can, but they really do not have much of a choice. In reality, he remains a big unknown.
Take, for example, Utley's performance in the first half of his return compared with his performance in the second half of his return. In his first 42 games he hit .247/.360/.473 with 8 home runs in 178 plate appearances (.833 OPS). In his last 41 games he hit .265/.370/.384 with 3 home runs in 184 plate appearances (.754 OPS). The contact, walk and strikeout numbers all remained even, but the power suffered a significant decline. Even if Utley is able to stay in the lineup for all six months of the regular season, there is some reason to wonder how his performance will hold up (his numbers showed a similar pattern after he returned from the disabled list in 2011). Again, we get back to the two important distinctions. The vast majority of major league teams would be thrilled with a .260 batting average and .370 on base percentage out of second base. But Utley's final numbers this season were below average for a No. 3 hitter. In the NL in 2012, three-hole hitters combined to hit .283/.356/.469 with a home run every 25.5 at-bats. Utley hit .256/.365/.429 with a home run every 27.4 at-bats.
II. Future Salary Commitments (Edited to reflect lux. tax threshold increase to $189 mil in '14)
2012: Chase Utley, 34 years old, $15.0 million (6.82 percent of luxury tax threshold)
FLEXIBILITY: Utley has some trade appeal because of the production he still brings to the second base position. Of course, that appeal is mitigated by the uncertainty about his health that is sure to exist after two straight seasons in which a chronic knee condition caused him to miss at least two months. The Phillies' flexibility is also limited by a no-trade provision that, according to FoxSports.com, allows Utley to block deals to all but eight major league clubs. That being said, the Phillies have given no indication that they would explore a trade of Utley prior to the start of the 2013 season. They already have a void at third base that could be filled by the light-hitting Galvis. Opening up another void at second base would not make sense given the lack of options available on the trade or free agent markets.
III. 2013 Organizational Depth Chart
- Chase Utley, 34, $12.14 average annual value signed through 2013
- Freddy Galvis, 23, pre-Arb (1.000 ST) under club control through at least 2017.
- Kevin Frandsen, 31, arb-eligible (est. 4.000 ST) under club control through at least 2014.
- Michael Martinez, 30, pre-arb (est. 2.000 ST) under club control through at least 2016.
- Cesar Hernandez, 23, AAA
BREAKDOWN: The Phillies thought enough of Galvis to ponder moving Utley to third base, although that experiment has been shelved for the foreseeable future. Frandsen spent the majority of the season at third base but is a natural second baseman who made a strong bid for consideration as a utility man in 2013, hitting .314/.352/.417 combined between AAA and the majors. Hernandez is a prospect who hit .291/.329/.404 in AA and AAA this season, but he is by no means considered a sure-fire second baseman of the future. At this point, he still projects as more of a utility man, although like any young player he still has potential to develop into more than that.
IV. Potential for personnel upgrades
TRADE POTENTIAL: At this point, there are no obvious second basemen who will be shopped this winter.
FREE AGENT MARKET: The Phillies may have pushed harder on an Utley move to third if there were a bona fide everyday second baseman available on the free agent market, the position looks to be thin. Kelly Johnson (31 years old) had a down year in Toronto, although he has some solid power seasons under his belt. Jeff Keppinger (33 years old) had an excellent season for Tampa Bay while splitting time between third base and designated hitter, so he could profile as a hitter the Phillies would have interest in. Orlando Hudson (35) has seen his production decline the last three seasons. He finished 2012 with a .572 OPS. It is doubtful that the Phillies would view Ryan Theriot (33) as an upgrade over Galvis. Other names on the market include Jeff Baker (32), Adam Kennedy (37), Jose Lopez (29), Maicer Izturis (32), Mike Fontenot (33) and Marco Scutaro (37)
V. Second base: In conclusion
Like first base, the Phillies' have little ability to pursue an upgrade. They will not have to worry about one if Utley can stay on the field for an entire season. But they will have a huge offensive void if he can't. Galvis still must move that he can play everyday without being an offensive liability. Frandsen could provide a better offensive option than the Phillies had when Utley was on the shelf this year. Long story short, whether the Phillies can improve on what they got out of second base this year will be dictated by Utley's health rather than any offseason moves.
The long-term outlook is fuzzy at best, as next year's free agent market is not looking much better than this one.