KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions for each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Philadelphia Phillies?
Will Chase Utley ever be the same kind of fantasy baseball commodity again?
In October, Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged the degree of doubt about Utley's future. The concussion he sustained in September isn't the issue, of course. No one can know, but it's likely that the former All-Star's patella tendonitis won't allow him to be that player again.
Waiting game for Howard
Utley is 33. The concern remains that this is a degenerative process. Recurrence of complications from it is possible. The scenario seems to make surgery sound unavoidable, eventually. Down time probably won't improve the condition of the left-handed hitter's knee. It clearly affects his performance. Therefore, he can't be in peak form.
The condition of the knee will allow him to perform only so well, but the point at which he can no longer be a serviceable player may be years from now. An offseason to strengthen the area, to learn how to manage it and to adapt to its limitations should help. This season, Utley should be prepared to maximize his abilities with this lower ceiling.
How much lower is it? The 2012 season should give us a good idea. In 2011, for the first time since he was an up-and-comer, Utley struggled versus southpaws. For his final six weeks or so of play, he looked lost at the dish. Did his knee reach the limits of its endurance? Did the league figure out how to exploit the weakened Utley?
Let's put the top end of his possible line in the class of Brandon Phillips'. The Cincinnati Reds' star is a reliable asset, however. How much has to go well for Utley to deliver? If fantasy owners have a good feel for that, they'll have a good feel for how much they're willing to pay for Utley.
When is Ryan Howard worth the gamble?
Rehab has reportedly gone smoothly for the man who made the Phils' final out in each of the past two postseasons. But the slugger isn't deep enough into his program to give evaluators a definitive time table. The estimate remains a vague "until at least May," with the club hopefully getting a clearer gauge by the beginning of February.
Regardless, he won't have normal participation in spring training. Say that Howard misses the first month, which would include some rehab games on the farm. Give him a couple of weeks or more in the bigs to work through the cobwebs. That leaves fantasy owners with approximately four to 4 1/2 months. Let's estimate 16 to 20 home runs and 65 to 80 RBIs.
Howard's absence figures to be, roughly, the same as Ryan Braun's if the NL MVP's suspension is upheld. The difference, of course, is that Howard may be affected physically for weeks after he returns. Still, the expected gap between their prices is likely to be large - probably too large perhaps to account for health differences alone.
Fantasy owners have become accustomed to thinking that first base is deep, but relatively speaking, it isn't. Deep options don't come close to matching the elite and second-tier performers at the position. Mixed roto owners could buy the stats of a second- or third-tier first baseman for the price of a CI.
In the last couple of years, Howard's performance has declined, but there's no reason to think that he won't be back in mitigated form at some point in 2012. Fantasy owners can front-fill his position until he's back, and Howard could then provide a nice boost in the second half.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.