There's a disturbing trend in Chase Utley's batting averages that a lot of Phillies fans don't like to acknowledge. It goes like this: .332, .292, .282, .275, .259.
You can do the same thing his yearly OPS figures: .976, .915, .905, .832, .769.
Now comes word that Utley is doubtful for Opening Day because of issues with both knees. So you have an aging, declining player who missed the first 45 games of 2011 with knee tendinitis now battling two bad knees.
Utley has survived several injuries in his career to remain one of the best second basemen in baseball. He spent 31 days on the disabled list in 2007 with a broken bone in his right hand, had offseason hip surgery following the Phillies' World Series title in 2008, and spent 49 days on the DL in 2010 with torn ligaments in his thumb. He's often bounced back quicker than expected. Following his hip surgery, he was expected to be out until May, but was in the Opening Day lineup. There was belief last spring that he'd be out until the All-Star break or later, but he returned May 23.
But he's now 33, hasn't played yet this spring, and is off to see a "specialist." It sounds ominous.
The Phillies' replacement options for Utley:
1. Freddy Galvis. The team's potential shortstop of the future, Galvis is a 22-year-old who spent most of 2011 in Double-A. While he carries a good-glove reputation, his bat is questionable. ZiPS projects his batting line at .261/.299/.359. Even with his decline in production, Utley created about 64 runs in 454 plate appearances in 2011. Galvis' line translates to about 41 runs created over 454 appearances.
2. Michael Martinez. The club's utility player a season ago, Martinez is a speedster who can play all positions on the field and not hit at any of them, as he showed with a .198/.258/.282 line in 234 PAs in 2011.
3. Ty Wigginton. Brought in to play first base until Ryan Howard returns from his injury, Wigginton has "played" second base in the past. Quote marks needed to emphasize the fact that it would be like putting a statue in the middle infield. Not a great option, especially since he's not much with the bat, either, but the Phillies could slide John Mayberry Jr. to first base (with an occasional appearance from Jim Thome) and go with some form of Juan Pierre/Domonic Brown/Laynce Nix in left field.
Galvis might be the best option, especially since Wigginton might be needed to fill in some at third base for Placido Polanco (he just suffered a sprained finger), who battled his own hip problems a season ago and is now 36.
Look, none of this is surprising. The Phillies are an old team with several players with recent injury issues. Players don't tend to get healthier as they move into their mid-30s.
We can't speculate yet how long Utley will be out. The Phillies won 102 games last season even though he played just 103 games. They scored 713 runs last season, and while that was a big drop from their offensive heyday a few years ago, it was still good for seventh in the NL. But without Howard for at least a couple of months and possibly without Utley for an extended period of time, and with a lineup that might end up seeing a lot of Pierre and Wigginton, this could end up being one of the worst offenses in the league.