Inside the Phillies: Chase Utley at third base for the Phillies?

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"It's just something I wanted to give a try," Chase Utley said of possibly playing third base. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

Ten years later and they're talking about Chase Utley playing third base again.

A decade ago, Utley was being groomed at triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace the departed Scott Rolen at the position. Utley, in his second full minor-league season with the Phillies, moved from second base to third in 2002 and skipped a stop at double-A Reading because he was such an advanced offensive player.

Then, as now, Utley was willing to do whatever was best for the team.

Unlike then, Utley now has enough organizational clout to make suggestions that resonate with the general manager.

"Yeah, well, I talked to Chase a lot about our present and future," Ruben Amaro Jr. said after Utley's early afternoon third-base session Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park stirred up some curiosity. "We were kicking around some different kind of things and talking about some of the things we were trying to plan for next year. We talked about different areas we need to address."

Third base, center field, and the bullpen are all at the top of that list. Third base is the only one of the three that would make any sense for Utley and the chronic knee condition that has significantly delayed the start of his last two seasons.

Poll

Should Phillies second baseman Chase Utley switch positions and move to third base?

"I approached Ruben a few days ago and just asked him if he thought if there was a possibility that I could play third base," Utley said. "He said he was unsure, as am I, so I figured I'd give it a try, get back over there and get my feet wet and just get a feel for that position again."

What's funny is that Placido Polanco should have been the answer to the third-base question a decade ago, but former general manager Ed Wade decided to sign free agent David Bell instead. That ended the Utley experiment at third base.

Bell, fresh off a solid season and an exceptional postseason with the San Francisco Giants, turned out not to be the answer. Back problems limited his playing time and effectiveness in the field and at the plate. Polanco ended up becoming the second baseman who blocked Utley's accelerated path to the big leagues. It wasn't until the middle of the 2005 season, after Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the infamous Ugueth Urbina deal, that Utley finally became the Phillies' everyday second baseman.

Now, Polanco's advanced age and inability to stay on the field have the Phillies looking for a third baseman again. Amaro has already come to the conclusion that the next free-agent class is not the solution.

"There is no market," Amaro said. "Very, very small."

Apparently the idea of signing a 38-year-old Rolen in order to bring this wicked hot-corner web full circle does not appeal to Amaro, and, of course, it should not. Kevin Youkilis is a potential free agent perhaps worth considering on a one-year deal, but nothing more.

Kevin Frandsen has taken over the position for the last month from Polanco and exceeded expectations, but if he fits into the Phillies' plans, it is more as a utility guy than an everyday third baseman.

At this point, Amaro isn't so sure the idea of Utley playing third base is all that appealing either. Neither is Utley sure, for that matter.

"It just makes sense" to consider it, Amaro said. "If the player is willing to give it a shot or contemplate it, why not? What's the downside? There's no real downside."

Utley said his volunteer work had nothing to do with how his knees have felt playing second base this season.

"I have no problem playing second base," he said. "I feel like I can play it at a high level. Today was just, 'Give it a try,' and that's it."

Utley said his move to third could give the Phillies some flexibility. The main benefit would be that Freddy Galvis could resume playing the position he handled so well defensively this season before being sidelined by a fractured vertebra and a drug suspension.

"I played there probably 10 years ago and it went so-so," Utley said. "I thought it could be an option for the future. Again, it's way too early to have an opinion either way on how it goes. I might take some more ground balls there in the future, but who knows what the future has in store."

Who knew how the next decade was going to unfold after the Phillies abandoned the idea of Utley playing third base in late 2002?

Utley made 28 errors, most of them throwing, in 340 chances and 123 games at third base for triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2002. By all accounts, however, he showed remarkable improvement at the position from the beginning of the season to the end.

"Chase is kind of a different animal," Amaro said. "If Chase tells me and proclaims himself ready to do something, unless he can't prove it, you have to kind of believe him."

 


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.