Could the end be near for Utley?

(Yong Kim/Philly Inquirer)

“World Champions… World f***ing champions!”

It’s incredible to think that three and half years removed from those five words proclaimed on Halloween 2008, the man who once said them is a shell of his former self.

A 29-year-old Chase Utley was on the top of the world. Two days removed from winning the World Series, the first of its kind in 28 years in the City of Brotherly Love, “The Man,” as proclaimed by Harry Kalas and the Philadelphia fanbase, had even bigger plans in the coming years.

They were supposed to win again in 2009. They were supposed to add one of the best rotations of all time to their high-powered offense. This was a dynasty in the making and Utley was the face of it all.

But that never happened. And now, it may be over a lot sooner than hoped for.

Utley is a timeless athlete, especially in a city that lives and dies by its athletes. Playing the game at a level matched by very few, Utley lived his baseball life playing hard – and may as well die to the same fate.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. It may be cliche, but it sums up his professional career.

Only four times in his nine-year career has Utley played at least 140 games in a season. The last two years, Utley missed a combined 98 games thanks to hip and knee problems.

This year could mark the second straight season Utley lands on the disabled list by Opening Day. And to Phillies fans, this will create a massive cause for concern with Ryan Howard slated to miss at least a few months of the beginning of the season while he rehabs an Achilles injury.

As Spring Training started, it was made known that the Phillies were going to take their time with Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco. But as the weeks passed and only Polanco was making the line up, writers got anxious and fans began to worry if there was really something wrong with their treasured second baseman.

Today general manager Ruben Amaro said that he doubts Utley will be able to start the season with the team. This is coming a week after Amaro and manager Charlie Manuel were confident Utley would be ready.

Utley had patellar tendinitis in his right knee last season, missing 46 games. He took up an off-season program to strengthen the knee while keeping pressure off it, but has managed to injure his left knee even worse than his right knee in the process.

2B/SS Freddy Galvis fields a play against the Pirates last week at second base. (J. Meric/Getty Images)

Instead of having Utley ready for April 5, short stop prospect Freddy Galvis will get the start on Opening Day after playing a majority of the spring at the position. Galvis is a short stop, raised to be Jimmy Rollins’ successor for the future.

With Galvis showing he is Major League ready, this leads people to think that bringing back Rollins in the offseason as opposed to starting the Galvis Era at short stop was an insurance move with Utley’s status up in the air.

Galvis reflected on his new opportunity today:

“For me it’s hard,” said Galvis after today’s game against the Tigers. “Losing Chase Utley, he’s a big guy for the team. But I know he’s going to get healthy soon, maybe a few weeks and I hope we get him better soon, but for me I feel real good right now. It’s a big opportunity. I think it’s my dream, to play in the big leagues. If I make it on the big league roster, that’s good.”

It’s a dream come true for Galvis, though not the way he was planning and especially at the cost of one of the team’s best players.

Utley is due to make $15 million in 2012 and 2013 before becoming a free agent after the 2013 season. Whether these are the last two seasons Utley will be wearing the red pinstripes is yet to be seen.

With the knee problems looking to be a factor, playing second base may become too much for Utley to handle.

Many saw Utley as a first baseman the last couple of years, and even though Howard is still locked up through 2016, it’s still a possibility Utley could have a job with the Phillies, if not somewhere else playing the right corner of the infield.

A farfetched possibility would be to trade Howard to an American League team where he could DH to free up money and rebuild the offense. With Howard’s $20-25 million off the books, it could allow the Phillies a lot of leverage in signing a top offensive weapon.

If that were to happen, Utley is either re-signed in the 2013 off season for a lot less than the $15 million he was bound to make, or is let go completely to give the Phillies a lot more room to work with.

Utley could also find himself with an AL club as a DH too. If playing the field in general would be too much for Utley, he may go that route if he still wants to play baseball.

This is all speculation though, and this is if Utley’s knees even hold up for another imminent partial season. At 32, this is the worst his knees have ever been and Utley is not getting any better health-wise right now.

It is all too unfortunate for someone proclaimed to be “The Man.” Now, he is just a man… with bad knees and a mound of frustration in front of him.

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