Two weeks ago on Phillies Notebook, we pointed out that Chase Utley – like Ryan Howard – had not made it onto the field this spring. We furnished quotes from Ruben Amaro, Jr. that implied that we were overreacting, that there was still time for Utley to get his work in and be on track for Opening Day and that there was nothing to read into the fact that Freddy Galvis, a natural shortstop, was playing mostly at second base and was among the team leaders in games played and at bats in the Grapefruit League.
Fast forward two weeks, and it becomes clear that Amaro was exhibiting wishful thinking. Galvis factors into the Phillies’ plans for 2012 – at least in the early going – in a major way, and Utley’s 2012 season – if not his career – is in jeopardy.
So who is Freddy Galvis and how did we get here? And what is likely to happen with Utley?
Freddy Galvis hails from Punto Fijo, Venezuela. Venezuela doesn’t produce nearly as many major leaguers as, say, the Dominican Republic. However, if there is an export other than oil that Venezuela is known for, it’s shortstops. Ponder this list for a moment:
Hall of famer Luis Aparicio. Possible Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel. Add Chico Carrasquel, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, Alex Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis and you have a pretty impressive lineage for Galvis to follow.
Instead it seems like Galvis will follow former Phillie Manny Trillo, himself a Venezuelan, over to second base.
Galvis signed with the Phillies at age 17, landing on a rookie league field in Williamsport for his first pro ball experience in 2007. Galvis is an accomplished fielder, but has played parts of the last 3 seasons at AA Reading, until in 2011 his bat finally showed it could be ready for the majors. After failing to hit above .240 in each of his first 3 minor league seasons, Galvis hit .273 with 8 home runs in 422 at bats at Reading, before moving up to AAA Lehigh Valley and hitting .298 in 121 more at bats.
Galvis projects as a #8 hitter in 2012. He has some speed on the basepaths, but is an inefficient basestealer – going 23 for 36 in 2011 and 68 for 101 overall in his minor league career.
One beneficiary of Galvis’ presence in the Phillies’ lineup could be Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz has mostly batted eighth in his Phillies career, a position where you see few good pitches to hit with the pitcher coming up to bat after you. While a Yadier Molina-like season may be too much to ask for from Ruiz, his .400 and .371 OBPs over the last 2 seasons may prove useful higher up in the order than simply moving him up one notch to 7th, especially on days where Laynce Nix and Galvis both play.
What about Utley’s future? Chase Utley’s batting average has been in decline since 2007, when he hit .332. Since then, he has hit .292, .282, .275 and .259. His OBP dropped each season as well. The big drops in production, however, were in 2010 (16 home runs and 65 RBI in 115 games) and 2011 (11 home runs and 44 RBI in 103 games), after hitting between 22 and 32 home runs and driving in between 93 and 105 runs in each of his prior 5 seasons.
Utley is due $15 million on his contract each of the next two seasons. This is not an insignificant point. If Utley had just one year remaining, the Phillies might prefer to do whatever it takes short of surgery to try to get Utley back on the field this season.
The reality is that with Galvis and Ty Wigginton available, if Utley’s health only allows for the 2011 Utley – at best – to play, it would make more sense for Utley to explore surgical intervention with the hope that he could return in 2013 closer to the player he once was than to watch a repeat of 2011.
Even if that’s what the team wants, it will end up being up to the player. All we need for proof of that is how the team clearly wanted Placido Polanco to undergo his hernia surgery in-season in 2011, in order to be back for the postseason, but Polanco persisted and stayed on the field – with some rather poor results. In fairness, a knee intervention, such as microfracture surgery, is a lot more risky and comes with a lot fewer guarantees than hernia surgery, but the overall point is that the pendulum has swung from what the team wants to what the player wants. Ironically, the team in this case is more in favor of a longer-term approach, and the players seem to be the ones wanting to get on the field sooner, even at less than optimal health and even when they have more years left on their contracts.
Howard’s Achilles, Utley’s knees – season saved by Amaro’s cold feet? This just in – Ryan Madson tore his elbow ligament right off the bone and will miss the 2012 season. We bear no ill will toward Madson, and don’t want to be accused of schadenfreude, but let’s face it – as tough as the injury news is on the Phillies these days, having your closer go down after committing to a 4 year, $40+ million contract would have potentially been the straw that broke the 5-year NL East Championship run.
Let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief, and be thankful that the Red Sox were tired of Jonathan Papelbon.
Back to the “leaving the building” theme, Domonic Brown was optioned to AAA this week. This marks the third spring in a row that Brown was given an opportunity to break camp with the Phillies, and instead will begin his season in the minors.
Brown has about a half-season’s worth of major league career at bats at age 24. His 7 homers, 32 RBI and 36 runs scored are good for a first-year player. So too are his 30 walks. His .236 career batting average is low, but not unusual compared to the first seasons of a lot of other highly touted players.
Brown is in the minors for three reasons:
1. His fielding is subpar.
2. There are outfielders on the major league team who give the Phillies more at this time than Brown can.
3. There is a sense that Brown can improve as a player in the minors.
Number 3 on the list is the key. With both Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino due to become free agents at the end of 2012 (along with Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz), there may simply not be enough money to keep everyone. With Utley’s future a question mark, Pence and Victorino, along with Ryan Howard, are the heart of the Phillies’ lineup.
In 2012, we will learn if John Mayberry will become a heart-of-the-order, everyday player and if Domonic Brown can hold down a major league job going into 2013. If the answer to either of those questions is not an emphatic “yes,” the Phillies may have little choice but to pay both Pence and Victorino to stay. That, along with the development of promising arms like Trevor May and Jesse Biddle, could impact the budget for Hamels. There’s also the possibility that the Phillies feel they need to trade Brown to acquire an established major leaguer to play second or third base.
Hard to believe that a player like Domonic Brown is the keystone to the Phillies’ decision-making, but in truth what they do with Brown impacts the other decisions, just as in making the other decisions, Brown’s future becomes more clear.
Rotation has a wrinkle: Last season, Charlie Manuel was often prodded about why lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels pitched back-to-back. To start 2012, Vance Worley will be inserted between them. While off-days and rainouts may impact things, the first four games of the regular season belong in turn to Roy Halladay, Lee, Worley, and Hamels. It’s expected that Joe Blanton gets the nod as the fifth starter, though just when he makes his first start is still up in the air.
And by the way, all is good in Halladay-land, as Doc went 6 strong innings against the Orioles on Tuesday, hopefully quieting the growing chorus of Chicken Littles.
Besides, with the Utley situation and Ryan Howard just this week taking off his protective boot and re-starting the rehab process from Achilles surgery, there are many other places to worry about the sky falling on the Phillies’ 2012 season than to look upward while Roy Halladay takes the mound.