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December 13, 2016

Utley reunion? Fuhgettaboutit - but Phils could still use an upgraded vet bat

Although the offense was the Phillies’ weakest link last year, you can look around the diamond at the moment and see few openings on the still-rebuilding roster.

Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis are entrenched on the left side of the infield, Odubel Herrera in center field, Cameron Rupp at catcher, Cesar Hernandez at second base … and Tommy Joseph at first, right? Add new left fielder Howie Kendrick and there’s just one vacancy.

But back to Joseph for a second. Of that group, he has the smallest big league track record.

Still, at last week’s Winter Meetings, general manager Matt Klentak said the first base job is Joseph's … for now.

“Right now, Tommy Joseph is our everyday first baseman,” Klentak said. “If that changes by virtue of an additional player acquisition, then we'll adjust. But I think Tommy showed up last year and hit really from the moment he got to the big leagues. Tommy showed pretty well for himself all year long and we're excited to see what he can do in a little more of a regular role this coming year.”

Joseph’s on-base skills were derided at times, but it’s worth pointing out that he had a more than acceptable .355 OBP (and .901 OPS) in the season’s final 70 games, beginning on July 1. He absolutely deserves to play more regularly.

Ideally, the Phillies would still like to add another veteran bat (after Kendrick) to fill manager Pete Mackanin’s  request (and the team’s need, really) for an additional proven, veteran professional hitter. The corner outfield remains a place the Phillies can stand to upgrade, although it might not make too much sense if they want to work Roman Quinn (and, eventually, Nick Williams and perhaps Dylan Cozens) into regular playing time in 2017.

With that said, another place the team can add that bat would be with the addition of a versatile, left-handed hitting first baseman to play in a tandem with Joseph, not unlike the Joseph-Ryan Howard dynamic last year. Joseph started 74 games last year and Howard started 90; flip that around in 2017 so the still-developing Joseph gets the majority of playing time, with, say, a minimum of a 100-to-60 split.

This brings us to another former Phillies icon: free agent Chase Utley. The fact is Utley (who won't be getting anything more than a one-year deal) would be the perfect fit if this was any other team in the exact same situation.

Try this: take the current 40-man roster, outfit them with Padres uniforms and move them to Petco Park. Utley would be an ideal left-handed, veteran hitter to mix into a young group in need of more professional at-bats on a nightly basis.

And if said team traded Cesar Hernandez (probably the most popular name of theirs in trade rumors), it’s even more intriguing, with the versatility of using both Kendrick and Utley at second, while also adding another veteran outfielder into the mix, too.

The Phillies will not be re-signing Chase Utley for obvious reasons.

They just had a terrific, emotional farewell for Howard, the last member of the 2008 World Championship team. Bringing back another uber-popular member of that team would send the wrong message.

We’re rebuilding the right way. We’re looking toward the future. We’re embracing our new blood.

And this is 100 percent the correct way to do these things. From a strict baseball standpoint, the fit it nearly perfect, though. (One Phillies official even admitted as much).

There are still two months until teams report to spring training, but Utley’s options are dwindling. The Los Angeles Angels, the apparent top suitor for Utley this winter, traded for former Washington infielder Danny Espinosa on Saturday to play second base.

The Dodgers, the team Utley has played for since August of 2015, are still seeking a second baseman but appear to prefer a right-handed bat to better balance their lineup. Los Angeles also has a left-handed hitting first baseman (and a very good one in Adrian Gonzalez), so the same platoon-type situation isn’t available.

The Dodgers are still probably the most likely fit if Utley is acceptable to decreased playing time. And that’s probably to be expected for a guy who turns 38 on Saturday and is coming off a year when he slashed .252/.319/.396 in 138 games.

Still, the Dodgers strongly value Utley’s veteran leadership in their clubhouse, particularly with their young group of position players like National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and Joc Pederson. The Dodgers can compensate Utley well financially and Utley – unless he finds an opportunity for a lot more playing time elsewhere – can continue playing an important role with his hometown team, a team with real World Series aspirations.

Utley’s Philadelphia story is over. Everyone gets it.

But if he was any other player -- with the exact same skill set, intangibles, and experiences -- he’d be a very intriguing fit for the 2017 Phillies. Perhaps a player like Brandon Moss (another veteran left-handed bat, one that can play first base and a corner outfield spot) is that guy instead.

Right-handed reliever Michael Mariot cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the Phillies announced Tuesday afternoon.

Mariot, 28, had been designated for assignment last week when the team signed free agent veteran Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. Mariot was 1-0 with a 5.82 ERA in 25 games with the Phillies last season (he had a 2.23 ERA and 0.897 WHIP in 26 games with Lehigh Valley). 

The Phillies announced yesterday that left-hander Sean Burnett, utility man Daniel Nava, and infielders Hector Gomez, and Pedro Florimon will be in Clearwater, Fla.,  as veteran players signed to minor league deals, with invitations to attend big league camp as non-roster players. We wrote about Burnett and Nava on Saturday.

Additionally, the Phillies acquired right-handed pitcher Mario Sanchez from Washington to complete last month's Jimmy Cordero trade. Sanchez, 22, was 5-0 with a 3.46 ERA, 62 strikeouts, and 22 walks in 32 games (all out of the bullpen) at Class A Potomac. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21