Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When healthy, Chase Utley used to be the best fantasy second baseman in the major leagues. The key phrase, of course, is "when healthy" which hasn't been the case over much of the past few years.
Utley has suffered from bad knees, a broken thumb and a bad hip among other problems. During spring training, there was talk that he might need season-ending knee surgery, but it appears that extensive rest has done the job.
The All-Star infielder is currently on the disabled list, but it's beginning to look a lot better for him to return to the field in short order.
Utley is expected to head to Florida in the next few days to the club's spring training complex for some work and then should begin playing games in the Florida State League.
That's exciting news for those fantasy owners who took a "shot" at selecting him on Draft Day.
But what about the many of us who didn't like the odds at that time and therefore passed on him back in March?
You currently have the chance to trade for him while his fantasy value is still low. If you believe he will return and be the guy who averaged 29.2 HR between 2005-2009 and averaged 15.4 SB then today, or this coming week at the latest, is the time to make a move.
That's because once he starts actually playing games, the news will be blasted all over the Internet and the price for Utley will quickly climb.
I'm of the belief, however, that the Utley of 2011 will be much different than the Utley from 2005-2010. Following the hip problem and now the knee issues, I'm not expecting much running from the four-time All-Star. We've also seen his batting average plummet in each of the past three seasons, from .332 in 2007 to .292, then to .282 and last year to just .275. His slugging percentage and OPS have dropped correspondingly.
So what can you expect from Utley this season? And how should you place a price on his fantasy value?
If all goes as planned, Utley should return to the Phillies lineup sometime around the end of May. Let's go with a June 1st debut against the Washington Nationals. That will be the Phillies 56th game of the season.
You would expect the Phillies to be careful with Utley and try to protect his health throughout the remainder of the season, most likely signaling the team will give him a day off at least once a week. After all, the Phillies goal is to win the World Series and therefore the regular season is only a prelude to the main event -- the playoffs.
At best, Utley will play 90 games in 2011.
Last year Utley competed in 115 games and hit 16 HR, knocked in 65, scored 75 runs and stole 13 bases. If we pro-rate those numbers to 90 games, we're talking about a second baseman who will contribute 13 HR, 51 RBI, 59 runs and 10 stolen bases (likely lower in the speed category) with an OPS around 0.832.
There are currently 12 second-base eligible players who have an OPS of .830 or better. There are 10 who are on a home run pace at least as good at Utley's expected total and 10 on his expected RBI pace, meaning it's not a very exclusive club.
And remember, there's no guarantee his knees will hold up for the entire season, so there is plenty of risk involved in making a trade for Utley.
I would set the value for Utley for the remainder of the season as a middle of the road starter, certainly not in the Robinson Cano class.
What would you pay for a second baseman like Neil Walker or Dan Uggla?
That's what you should pay to get Utley in today's market.
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