Chase Utley led the league in getting hit by a pitch last season, taking one for the team 27 times. And he led the league in 2007, too. His barking hip is begging for a break.
Down in Clearwater, you wonder if team physician Michael Ciccotti has the guts to give Chase Utley the kind of advice he needs to hear most: “Don’t be a hero.” Because the top story so far this spring has been Utley’s remarkable progress on his surgically repaired hip. He’s reportedly taking fielding practice and hitting off a tee. There’s even been some discussion that he could appear in a few Grapefruit League games. Really? This couldn’t be the same guy who was supposed to be sidelined for a full six months, an original timetable that would have set him back until late May/early June.
In the grand scheme of things, meaning, $11 million in 2009, $15 million in 2010, $15 million in 2011, $15 million in 2012 and $15 million in 2013, is April 5 that important? Frankly, is April that important? Or May? In Utley’s world, that’s two months of balls-to-the-wall play, at least one home plate collision and about nine HBP. Utley represents their greatest long-term investment. And if the economy was functioning in a predictable, normal manner, I’d be able to complete my train of thought with a logical metaphor about long-term investments.
The worst thing that can happen is for Utley to read his own headlines, ignore what his body tells him and assume that he needs to meet our expectations on an Opening Day return.
Payroll over $132.5 million: If avoiding arbitration with 11 holdovers from the World Series winners is the top story this winter, then the new $132.5 payroll benchmark is a close second. That’s where it’s at now that Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino have signed split contracts. Carlos Ruiz and Mike Zagurski are still unsigned. My, how far the Phillies have come from earlier in the decade, when the club was pinching every penny in hopes of making a splash with the opening of Citizens Bank Park. And to think, those were the economic boom years.