Phillies pull plug on Chase Utley experiment at third base

Posted: September 28, 2012

MIAMI - In the end, there was too much risk and too little time. Sure, the Phillies were more than willing to listen when Chase Utley approached them with the idea of moving to third base. He worked diligently in afternoon sessions there and showed enough progress in one month to make team officials believers.

Then the Phillies staved off formal elimination entering Friday's game and it put this experiment in a precarious position. Six games at third base for Utley - good or bad - were not large enough of a sample size to influence a winter strategy.

So before the game with the Marlins, Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel informed Utley they would not pursue the switch. His work at third base is done.

"I don't know if it's a matter whether or not he can do it," Amaro said. "I think it's more a matter of practicality and what's really best for the team overall. While having that option would be helpful, I don't know if it's really an option that's going to make us necessarily better."

This eliminates one option in a muddled picture for 2013. The free-agent market for third basemen is bereft of viable solutions. Amaro mentioned Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen as in-house candidates. Placido Polanco's $5.5 million option for 2013 will be declined.

Amaro insisted the decision was not based upon Utley's lacking ability at third. He played the position 10 years ago at triple A with erratic results. His half-dozen practices at third impressed team officials, specifically Sam Perlozzo and Ryne Sandberg. Perlozzo has instructed infielders for three decades. Sandberg made the transition from third base to second as a player.

Both Amaro and Manuel agreed with those evaluations. Amaro, for one, said the project was not "dead." But Utley will cease his work there and it appears the team is fully headed in another direction.

"In retrospect," Amaro said, "it would be difficult to make a real assessment in six games, to watch this guy play and say, 'OK, we know Chase Utley is going to be an average defender and better for our team.' That's a very difficult thing to be able to assess. None of us are good enough scouts to be able to do that."

Complicating any such move are Utley's chronically injured knees. He has not played a spring training game in two years. If he were to switch to third, it would require extensive action in Grapefruit League play. That is no guarantee, although Utley says his knees are strong after 78 games in 2012.

That's why, if anyone is to switch positions, it will be the 22-year-old Galvis. He has never played third base and could do so this winter in Venezuela while playing for Amaro's father's team.

Amaro said Utley had yet to approach either him or Manuel about volunteering to play at third in the final days of the season. The GM believes that would have soon happened, so his decision was preemptive.

Utley, 33, will make $15 million in 2013, the final season of his current contract. His first workout session at third was Aug. 29. It morphed from moving at Utley's pace to Perlozzo devising a schedule and planning lessons.

"He would play anywhere we want him to play," Manuel said.

Amaro said it was unfair to judge Utley on the basis of six games.

"It's tough to put the guy in that position right now," Amaro said.

The trial could have advanced Friday in a meaningless game. Instead, Utley jogged to second base, his home for the foreseeable future.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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