CLEARWATER, Fla. - Already, the pronouncements have begun. The Phillies would be quite confident with 22-year-old Freddy Galvis in their Opening Day lineup. They do not feel any pressure to add a seasoned veteran. They have more than enough weapons to field a championship-caliber lineup.
If all of this sounds remarkably familiar, it is probably because you spent the first few months of the offseason hearing similar statements about the shortstop position. And what you should do right now is what you did back then, which is trust that little voice inside of you that says that Ruben Amaro Jr. and his cadre of personnel men can't possibly believe what they are saying in public.
The Phillies need to add a veteran infielder. The Phillies believe they need to add a veteran infielder. If they don't, then they might end up in the same place they were headed had they actually believed that they did not need to re-sign Jimmy Rollins. And that is not a pretty place. Not for a team with a payroll pushing $170 million. Not for a team that spent much of last season scrounging for runs like they were pennies in a public gutter. Not for a team that has spent the past three offseasons doubling down on pitching in an attempt to offset the diminishing capabilities of a lineup ravaged by defections and time.
Whatever thin veil of doubt that might have remained vanished into a muggy afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium yesterday when second-year utility man Michael Martinez was hit by a pitch and broke a bone in his right foot. That an injury to Martinez counts as major news is all you need to know about the state of the Phillies' infield. When Rollins and Placido Polanco are your two greatest health certainties, there isn't anything certain at all. Health was supposedly the reason why the Phillies thought long and hard before agreeing to terms on a 3-year extension for Rollins. Now, he is a modern-day Jack LaLanne, towing a tugboat of an offense through the final stages of a spring that for the last 4 weeks has brought nothing but bad news.
The Phillies know all of this. They have to. Monday's announcement that Chase Utley had left spring training to visit a specialist about his chronically sore knees could not have come as a surprise. A disappointment? Sure. If you were in their shoes, you would be holding out hope that a position where you'd been able to pencil in 20 home runs and a .370 on-base percentage for the last 7 years would not suddenly become a glaring liability.
But you would also have a realistic view about the situation. You would understand that chronic knee problems do not suddenly heal themselves with 4 months of rest. And in the event that those knee problems flare up, you would move on to Plan B.
Maybe Galvis is a capable Plan B. Baseball men who are far more experienced than any of us amateurs see a lot to like in the 22-year-old switch-hitter. But none of those men can say for sure that he is going to give the Phillies anything more than the .196 batting average or .258 on-base percentage or .282 slugging percentage or .540 OPS that Martinez gave them as a rookie last season. He has an excellent chance of giving them better defense. But defense is not this roster's biggest question. And the fact remains that until last season, Galvis had never finished a year with better than a .247 batting average or .300 on-base percentage. And while he hit .298/.315/.364 in 33 games at Triple A, those are the only 33 games he has spent above Double A in his five seasons in the minors.
There is an argument to be made that now is the time to give Galvis a shot, that you never know about a kid until you give him a chance to perform. On the other hand, the Phillies have already decided to go that route in leftfield. They made a calculated decision to overpay for a closer rather than overpay for a veteran hitter like Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham with the hope that John Mayberry Jr. is able to do in 500 plate appearances what he did in 300 last season. With Cuddyer in leftfield or at first base, they would be in a better position to swallow a glove-only player at second base.
Mayberry still has to prove that the .854 OPS and 15 home runs he slugged as a rotational player last year will translate on an every-day basis. If it does, the Phillies won't have nearly as much to worry about. But now that Utley is officially out, they will enter the season with a disconcerting lack of certainty about the offensive production they will get out of the three hole. And not just any position, but a premium defensive position where the long-term future is almost as bleak as the short-term.
Nobody is arguing that Amaro should package Trevor May and Jesse Biddle and hand them over to the first team that offers a veteran infielder. The combination of Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton could provide enough offensive punch at first base and leftfield to give the Phillies' vaunted pitching staff the runs that it needs. Wigginton could end up winning Manuel's trust at third base, enabling Polanco to move over to second. Utley could work his way back onto the field by the end of April. A lot can still go right for this offense.
At the same time, a lot can still go wrong, both now and over the course of a marathon season. And if it does, Manuel needs to be able to call on a veteran hitter who can hold his own against major league pitching and maybe even get hot for a stretch. You have to believe the Phillies understand that.
Or, at least, you have to hope they do.
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