The Phillies' third-base prospect Chase Utley is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League. The Phillies are reporting pursuing free agent third basemen David Bell and Edgardo Alfonzo, but given that Utley was their top draft pick in 2000 and he was skipped from Single-A to Triple-A last year they may be seen as more of a short-term solution. He showed good power in 2002 but batted only .263 and is still learning the position.
There is an outside chance that he may stick with the Phillies as their starting third baseman next year. Manager Larry Bowa will be touring the AFL in order to take a look at Utley. In the last two years trips by Bowa to check out Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd have help assure them trips to the majors.
The Phillies are now gearing up for the opening of the new stadium in 2004 and are starting to make personnel decisions accordingly. Utley star seems set to ascend by opening day 2004. For the first time in a millenium the Phils (reportedly) will be active in the free agent market (Terry Adams-like signings don't count). They seem to be the main competition for the Indians in the pursuit of Jim Thome's services. The have shown interest in almost all the big names in the market: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Thome, Bell, and Alfonzo. For the first time since Curt Schilling's departure the Phils are interested in fielding a grade-A starter.
As a fan of the Phils, I find all of this very encouraging after 20 years of near-comatose moribundity for the franchise. By the same token, it makes one wonder why it took the Phils so long to start opening their coffers given the potential revenues their population base could have afforded them over the years. Maybe that has been the problem all along: the Phillies management saw that there was a large enough steady, loyal fan base that probably would not have grown had the ownership actually invested in the team and would not shrink if they did not invest. So they have been Tribune-ing the club for all this time. Now that they have the potential for growth in the offing, they crack open their piggy banks and pursue actual talent at actual prices. It's somewhat disingenuous, but I'll take it.