CLEARWATER, Fla. - The red No. 26 bag was still hanging to the left of the locker, right where Chase Utley left it last weekend. The two dangling hats and stacks of black bats were untouched, too. There was no sign of any activity, and Phillies officials were reluctant to even confirm Utley's presence at camp following a visit to an unknown specialist in an unidentified location.
"I haven't seen him," Charlie Manuel said, "but someone said he came here."
Secrecy shrouds the status of Utley's chronically injured knees and what consequences it could have on the Phillies' roster in the short and long term. The team offered nothing but cryptic messages Friday, giving more credence to the belief this whole process is controlled by Utley and only Utley.
The second baseman did not make himself available to reporters but sent word through a team official that he plans to speak Sunday. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there was "no news" to report and that he had yet to discuss the mystery specialist's recommendations with Utley. Manuel echoed that, saying he'll "sit right there until somebody comes and talks to me [about Utley]."
"I still think Chase is going to be back at some point," Amaro said. "We just don't know when."
However nebulous the Utley situation is, the Phillies are clearly monitoring the trade market for just about any useful offensive piece with a roster in flux. Thirteen days remain until the season opener in Pittsburgh and player movement will increase as other teams make decisions.
The Phillies have an obvious need for a utility infielder; Amaro said Michael Martinez could miss six to eight weeks with a broken foot.
"We're keeping our eyes open on middle-infield depth," Amaro said. "We could do it internally, but I think it behooves us to make sure we keep an eye out on what's going on as far as guys who are available, guys who could help us."
Their bench lacks any sort of viable righthanded option, and Amaro conceded he'd like more balance in a perfect scenario. "But we'll probably go with the guys we have," Amaro said, a refrain often heard before a Phillies move.
"We're going to try to take the best 25 guys," he said.
Domonic Brown is not one of them, as he was optioned Friday, because Amaro said the team is "not in the mode right now to develop guys at the major-league level." So does that preclude the Phillies from using Freddy Galvis, a 22-year-old with 121 at-bats above double A, as Utley's replacement?
"He's not a developing player," Amaro said. "He's ready to play defensively, at the very least. And that's an important element for us, especially in the middle of the infield. He's not a finished product, but he's a guy who at least for now is as good as we're going to get."
His statements on Galvis represent a sharp contrast to his praise with caveats earlier this spring, just one sign the Phillies could still seek an upgrade. It could be that none of the potential infield acquisitions offer better value than Galvis, as an American League scout suggested earlier in the week.
One intriguing name that could hit the market next week is San Francisco's Ryan Theriot. The 32-year-old infielder signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal that is not guaranteed, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Giants have a surplus of middle infielders.
Amaro did make it clear he believes dealing from his perceived strength of starting pitching would be a poor idea. Joe Blanton's name has been rumored in trade talks all spring, mostly because the Phillies are looking to shed his salary and have Kyle Kendrick as a suitable replacement. But with both pitchers enjoying solid springs, and the heavy pressure on the pitching staff, Amaro appears content to sacrifice offense for depth there.
"I'd rather keep everything," Amaro said. "I'd rather keep my pitching right now, especially with the way we are, health-wise. I want to keep the strength a strength."
Of course, whatever roster Amaro carries into April is subject to changes later. Much will depend on Utley's status, which beyond a small circle of confidants remains a great secret.