By Ryan Fagan —
The end of the 2008 season couldn't have gone much better for the Phillies. They caught and passed the Mets for the N. L. East title thanks to a 13-3 push to close the regular season, then blitzed through the postseason with an 11-3 record en route to their first World Series championship since 1980.
Second baseman Chase Utley was one of the big reasons for Philadelphia's success down the stretch. He had at least one hit in 14 of his final 15 regular season games (he sat out the season finale with most of the other starters), then hit a home run in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers and Game 1 of the World Series against the Rays. Plus, he turned in a handful of borderline spectacular defensive plays against Tampa Bay.
"I think that you sit and watch Utley day-in and day-out, and the way that this guy goes about playing baseball, I think he's one of the best players in the game, " Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said during the World Series. «And I think anytime that he can do good and get national exposure, it's going to help him.»
Utley still is getting national attention as the calendar rolls into late November, but it's not the type of attention he'd like. The three-time All-Star recently had hip surgery, confirming the notion that his hip was bothering him much more than he let on during the season. He fought through the pain and was rewarded with the World Series title. Now, though, worst-case scenarios have him out until June. That would leave the Phillies with a giant — though temporary — void at second base.
That is just one of several issues the Phillies have had to deal with since the champagne stopped flowing in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse. So far, these developments are nothing that will devastate their chances of repeating as champs, but they're things that give the Mets and Braves hope of competing in the N. L. East in 2009.
In addition to Utley's health (and the early season void it could create), there are several other issues that Philadelphia needs to address:
Pedro Feliz, a shrewd free agent signing last offseason, had surgery on his lower back last week and faces a recovery time that's sizeable, though not nearly as long as Utley's. At this point, the Phillies are optimistic that Feliz will be ready by spring training. Feliz is a solid third baseman with a decent bat, though he hit only 14 homers in the regular season after four consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs. Oddly, the decline came after a move from a pitcher-friendly park in San Francisco to the hitters haven in Philly.
The future of Pat Burrell, a free agent, remains uncertain. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft has been the Phillies' starting left fielder for the past nine seasons, but at 32, he is looking for a long-term deal. The Phillies would like to retain his services — he is the primary righthanded power threat in the lineup — but aren't likely to offer him much more than a two-year deal. If Burrell leaves, the Phillies will need to find a replacement. There was talk they were interested in Matt Holliday before he was dealt from the Rockies to the A's, but don't put it past the A's to move him again if the Phillies or another team offers the right package. It's a remote possibility, but not impossible. In any case, the team must replace Burrell's production if he signs elsewhere.
Lefthander Jamie Moyer also is a free agent. After another outstanding regular season (16-7 with a 3.71 ERA), Moyer tanked in his first two postseason starts before delivering 6 1/3 strong innings in his World Series debut. The Phillies would like to bring him back, but the veteran lefthander just turned 46 and would like a two-year deal, something Philadelphia might not be willing to offer.
Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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