Chase Utley is a damn good baseball player.
He’s one of the best hitters in the game, both for power and average, while playing a defensively-focused position, and doing it well. With a career .293/.380/.514/.894 line and a 2010 Fielding Bible Award at second base on his resume, he’s a big piece of what the Philadelphia Phillies hope will be a world championship team.
That’s the hope.
The reality, however, is quite different. Baseball greatness aside, Utley’s hurt and might be for some time. Nobody really knows yet. The words “knee” and “surgery” are floating around, so the timetable for recovery could be months, precious months the Phillies – who just won the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and lost top prospect Domonic Brown to hand surgery – can’t afford to be short-handed.
Will they be calling Dayton Moore about fan favorite Mike Aviles?
First, the severity of the injury matters. Stephania Bell, ESPN’s superstar injury expert reported that there is tendinitis, weakened cartilage and bone swelling lurking in Utley’s knee. She likened it to a worn tire:
Perhaps the best analogy for Utley’s knee condition is that of a worn tire. You know that if you continue to drive on it, you may be able to get another 20,000 miles out of it, but if the tire blows, it won’t come as a great surprise. And if you put the car in the garage and “rest” it, it doesn’t improve the tire tread.
Perhaps Utley will try to play on the bum wheel. There’s a chance that, if he can get a few more days rest, it might allow him to stay on the field. But he has to get on the field first. So far he’s taken batting practice, but hasn’t done any fielding drills.
Joe Pawlikowski at FanGraphs went over a few options the Phillies may turn to to fill the void left by a potentially-disabled Utley. He lists Michael Young, Luis Castillo, and others as replacements, but the Phillies don’t have a lot of money to dish around at this stage and many options are pretty weak.
This is where the Royals have an opportunity.
Aviles is a unique player. He’s not old, but he’s old. He’s good, but he’s not good. He’s versatile, but he’s kind of not.
He’d also be a perfect fit for the Phillies if Utley’s out for the first half of the year.
Aviles will celebrate his 30th birthday on Sunday, yet hasn’t hit arbitration (that comes next offseason). Never really in the Royals plans as a prospect, he spent all of 2006 and 2007 in Omaha and returned there in 2008 before his 1.001 OPS in 227 plate appearances forced Kansas City to finally call him up where he only finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.
We know his 2009 was lost to Tommy John surgery, but he came back in 2010 and looked just as good as he had in his rookie year.
He’s a high-contact, low-walk guy, but he could probably flirt with .300 for a few more years. His power isn’t great, but it’s more than passable for the position. He’s going to start 2011 as a third baseman, came up as a shortstop, but he’s probably best suited for second base. He’s more affordable than Michael Young, he’s more versatile and talented than Luis Castillo. Frankly, he’s the best option for the Phillies if he were available.
The Phillies can’t just toss in a stopgap to get by. They need a quality player to fill a position that they hadn’t anticipated needing to fill. Their goal isn’t to contend, but to clinch. Luis Castillo ain’t gonna cut it.
There’s talk that the Phillies may have Placido Polanco shift from third base to second base, but there still aren’t great options out there for that position either. Aviles could play in either spot for them.
So the Phillies could go after Aviles. The better question is if the Royals should be receptive to any prospective offers.
Now I like Mike Aviles. I’m not alone. He’s a guy who the fans like, the type of guy who is easy to root for. Maybe that doesn’t show up in the boxscore, but it does make me think that I don’t want them to trade him, but if they did, I’d be okay with it.
Again, Aviles is nearly 30, one of the few players in camp at that age, and while he’d probably be one of the best players on the team in 2011, the big focus for the Royals is on the years to come. With Mike Moustakas at third base, Alcides Escobar at shortstop and either of Christian Colon or Johnny Giavotella penciled in at second base all within the next year or two, Aviles isn’t someone who will likely factor into the 2013 team’s success (who we hope will be contending). Sure, he could be someone to keep in the lineup, but he’ll be 32 and the clock could strike midnight at any time on his Cinderella story.
So yes, if the Royals could get a player or two back who could develop in the system, that’d be a great. We’re not going to win this year, we could be decent next year (with Giavotella ready perhaps), and hope to contend in 2013, so Aviles isn’t vital within the organization. Useful? Capable? Valuable? Yes to all of those questions. Indispensable? Not quite.
His salary, ability and versatility allow the Royals to be particular about who they ask for and who they take on in a trade. As I discussed the other day, the Royals could seek outfielders or right-handed pitchers in a trade. The Phillies have a couple options there that could be a fit for the Royals.
Once again consulting Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook, it looks like eight of the Phillies top 30 prospects are outfielders and 14 of their prospects are right-handed pitchers. They certainly have depth to deal from. Also, while things change, BA still projects their rotation as the same group that has the baseball world going gaga and #3 prospect Brody Colvin. Could Jarred Cosart, their #4 prospect, and his 94-98 mph fastball be in play? For a 30-year-old middle infielder, probably not, but maybe 20-year-old Trevor May is possible?
Maybe post-hype prospect Phillippe Aumont could be a target. BA has him as the Phillies #14 prospect, but sixth among right-handed pitchers. He’s 6’7″ and can touch the high 90s with his fastball, but may project better as a reliever than a starter.
Tyson Gillies is a plus runner with great defensive abilities. He’s likely to start in Double A, and could be the closest of the Phillies prospects (not named Domonic Brown) to come up and really make an impact. He’s a potential leadoff hitter. Half of the Phillies top ten prospects are outfielders, and they can’t play them all. Most of them are in A-level or rookie ball still, but could be players who could bolster the Royals second wave – these are guys like Domingo Santana who’s a big guy from the Dominican Republic with raw power. He’s 18. Jiwan James moved from pitcher to the outfield and is another speedster with great range. Aaron Altherr has a lot of upside, as he’s talented now, but could develop better speed, better defense and a better arm and should at least have average power.
Any of these players would be great fits to an already strong Royals system. The questions remain about Utley’s knee. How he proceeds in his treatment obviously adjusts Philadelphia’s situation. If he’s out until July, they may find themselves a bit more desperate for a fill-in. Even after Utley returned, it’s not like Jimmy Rollins is the healthiest player ever. Polanco isn’t getting any younger. Aviles could play any of their positions and would be a fantastic player off the bench for any playoff team with the bonus that he could start for prolonged periods and be productive as well.
That has value. Does it have enough for a top 10 prospect from the Phillies? Maybe not, but they have depth of talent if they need to make a move and I see no reason why the Royals can’t benefit from that.
If they want to keep Aviles, I can’t blame them. Likewise, if they trade him, I can’t fault them for that either.
Will it happen? That may be up to Utley at this point. If he goes under the knife, you’d have to think the Phillies would at least ask about Aviles.