As we near the midway point in Spring Training, we start to learn a few things about the team, the players and the expectations for the 2012 season. For instance, the fact that certain guys are around (while others get outrighted to the minors) tells you a bit about how the front office views the survivors, and that they can improve their stock with a successful final few weeks of the spring.
For the veterans, this isn't terribly important, because it's the same old song and dance: get your work in, make whatever adjustments are necessary, then rinse and repeat. The next two weeks are about working out the kinks as much as they are about enjoying the weather.
But, for others, the last two weeks are going to prove to be fairly crucial. Namely, for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, whose injuries have left the team without the right side of the infield and a pair of gaping holes in the offense. For Howard, we know what to expect, given that his Achilles injury has a documented recovery time and such. But, for Utley, it's much different. His knee injury -- which is no doubt carrying over from last season -- is unpredictable and nerve wracking, simply because we don't know what he is going to be able to offer this season.
The fact that he hasn't played an inning so far this spring doesn't bode well for him.
For that reason, the report from CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury that the Phillies are looking for infield help isn't all that surprising. After all, infield depth is going to be crucial to the team's success in 2012, given that Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have all dealt with (or currently are dealing with) significant injuries over the last two seasons.
And while the news that the Phillies are looking to bolster the infield might summon the pessimism dragons and cause the fans to think the worst about Utley's condition, it really comes down to the sheer fact that the Phillies have an old and injury-prone infield. The best defense against that is having enough bodies on hand that can mitigate the wear-and-tear of the starters.
As it stands, the Phillies have depth in the form of Ty Wigginton (he can play three infield positions, plus he can hit a bit), John Mayberry (he can play first base, and will hopefully continue his offensive surge from 2011), Michael Martinez (he can play every infield position, but can't hit), and Jim Thome (he can hit and...that's it).
If they are able to wrangle up some extra bodies -- and according to David Murphy of The Daily News, the options are aplenty -- it allows the Phillies to rest the starters as often as they can, while hopefully not sacrificing quality at-bats.
Of course, the best case scenario would be a clean bill of health from Rollins and Polanco for the duration of the season, for Utley to play in at least 100 games without getting worn down at season's end, and for Howard to be back on the field by June -- which, admittedly, has zero chance of happening.
It's all just wishful thinking, really. And until Utley and Howard are on the field simultaneously, it's going to be a lot more fingernail biting and hand-wringing. But, us Phillies fans are used to that, right?