The Chase Utley situation is an interesting one because of how little we know about the health of his knees. He sounds optimistic, excited even, but he sounded the same way in February when he spoke to reporters at the start of spring training. All offseason, I had wondered how big an issue Utley's health was when it came to the team's planning. After listening to him speak in February, I was close to convinced that he really had passed the challenge, that his knee condition was manageable. This was less than a month before we found out that he would start the season on the disabled list.
So it is impossible to say what to expect out of Utley this time around. He looks strong, that's for sure. But he also missed more time this year than he did last year. Maybe that is because he was determined to come back better than he was when he came back last year. Or maybe it is because his physical problems are more complicated this time around.
One thing is for sure: Utley will improve this offense. Even though his numbers were not at the levels you have come to expect, he was still one of the top hitting second baseman in the majors. He finished Aug. 1 hitting .290/.380/.498 with eight home runs and as many walks as strikeouts in 256 plate appearances. At that point, he looked like Utley. But in his final 45 games he hit just .220/.298/.333 with three home runs in 198 plate appearances. He was one of the Phillies' best (only) hitters in the playoffs.
Make of that what you will. The truth is, none of us know, not even the Phillies or Utley himself. When he is on the field, he will be a vast improvement over the players who had been filling in for him. The unknown question: how long will he be on the field?