CLEARWATER, Fla. - Disgruntled Rangers icon Michael Young, unhappy at being asked to change positions one more time, asked to be traded a month ago. It was a big national story with an odd local twist. A rumor quickly surfaced that the Phillies were sniffing around, making calls, checking out what it would take to get him.
The Phillies? It didn't seem to make a lot of sense at the time. Probably nothing more than conducting due diligence. Sure, any team would love the idea of adding a six-time All-Star and career .300 hitter to its lineup. But even though Young has played all over the infield, the defending National League East champions didn't have a crying need at third, short or second.
Except that that curious little Texas two-step could be viewed from a different angle after yesterday's revelation that All-Star second baseman Chase Utley has not been held back because of general soreness, as has been the party line the last couple of days. Instead, he underwent an MRI and is suffering from patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Manager Charlie Manuel couldn't say for sure when Utley might be ready to play in his first Grapefruit League game.
For a team with World Series aspirations, a team that ritually invokes the phrase "barring injuries" whenever its hopes and dreams for the upcoming season are discussed, this has to be considered an alarming shot across the bow.
And it becomes even more problematic if the alleged pursuit of Young was spurred by a worry that didn't become public until yesterday. Because that would mean they've been worried about Utley's health for quite some time now.
Standing in the outfield of Mike Schmidt Field at the Carpenter Complex, both general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Utley himself quickly downplayed the seriousness of this development. And it could turn out that this is little more than a false alarm that is quickly forgotten once the regular season opens.
Still, minimizing concern for injuries that later turn out to be more severe is pretty much standard operating procedure these days. And the reported inquiry into the availability of one of the American League's top players can now be seen as a possible telltale clue that the team was looking at all its possible options in case Utley misses significant time . . . or is forced to move to the outfield to take some of the strain off his knees.
The point isn't that a sentry should be posted on the outskirts of town, scanning the horizon for possible Michael Young sightings. Trying to figure out how that particular jigsaw puzzle would come together is enough to give you a headache.
The point is that maybe, just maybe, the Phillies have been looking for a way to hedge their bets on Utley's physical condition for a while now. And if that's the case, it would be a pretty sure sign that they're a lot more worried about him than they're letting on.
It's long been suspected that some sort of physical malady would help explain Utley's gentle decline in production the past three seasons.
Now, while it would be a mistake to completely eliminate the possibility that a franchise that has pulled Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee out of a red baseball cap in the last year and change would have the wherewithal to pick up Young, logic dictates against it.
Strike one is money. Young is signed for 3 more years and another $46 million (with $9 million of it deferred). The Rangers are believed to have made it clear they aren't going to pick up much of that, if any, to facilitate a deal. Remember, they're under no obligation to move him.
The Phillies have a payroll already pushing $160 million. Yes, they sell out every game. But every team has a choking point.
Even if the finances could be rearranged, Texas has reportedly made it clear that it wants top-drawer talent in return before it will even consider moving one of its most popular players.
That would likely be the insurmountable obstacle. Most of the Phillies' minor league talent lies buried deep in the system after the series of blockbuster trades that helped build one of the most formidable rotations in recent memory.
Time will tell whether Utley's injury becomes a real issue. That Michael Young won't be the answer if it does looks like a pretty safe bet.