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Raising Questions

Who will man the utility spot in 2017?

111314_blanco-andres_600As the 2016-17 offseason is in full effect, why not take a look at some possible plugins for a utility man for the 2017 Phils?

With Andres Blanco becoming a free agent, and after inserting Jesmuel Valentine onto the 40-man roster, General Manager Matt Klentak and skipper Pete Mackanin must make a decision. Do they go on the market and look for a veteran bat, or continue the youth movement by giving Valentine a shot with the club as a utility man?

Here are the options:

Jesmuel Valentine

Valentine may the only in-house option for the Phils. A 22-year-old from Puerto Rico, Valentine played for both Reading and Lehigh Valley with a combined .269/.341/.395 line. Valentine spent much less time with Lehigh Valley, playing in just 36 games. For Lehigh Valley, the switch hitter tallied a .248 average, struck out 24 times and struggled with right-handed pitching, hitting just .224. It is very possible that the Phils will keep Valentine in triple-A for more seasoning. But with injuries being inevitable, Valentine may be next in line to get the call.

Erick Aybar

Aybar broke into the league with the Los Angeles Angels, playing 10 seasons for them, and, in 2016, spent time with both Atlanta and Detroit. His career slash line reads .273/.314/.373. From 2011-15, Aybar displayed gap power by smacking at least 30 doubles in each of those years. In much less playing time last season, Aybar still hit 19 doubles for Atlanta and Detroit. A hitter of Aybar’s caliber is tempting to the Phillies as they claim to seek respectable and experienced hitters. Pete Mackanin would love a guy like Aybar, who can play second, third and short (Aybar made just 13 errors primarily playing shortstop). The problem? The 32-year-old made $8.5 million last season and though he didn’t play as well in 2016, Aybar will still command around $5 million or so. The Phils should go after Aybar without exceeding that $5 million.

Daniel Descalso

Descalso has been there, done that, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. The 30-year-old spent his first five seasons in St. Louis, reaching the playoffs in four of them, as well two World Series appearances and a ring. The last two seasons Descalso was Colorado’s utility man, playing all four infield positions and some outfield. At the dish, Descalso’s slash line reads .242/.315/.352. Mostly a singles hitter, the left handed swinger will come cheaper than Aybar as another trusted vet with postseason experience that can help groom the Phils’ young infield

Darwin Barney

Barney has played in just 215 games since 2014, compared to 440 games the previous three years (all with the Cubs). In playing 104 games in 2016, Barney hit a solid .269 and got on base at a .322 clip. The right-hander does not display any power and is primarily a singles hitter who would slide in at the bottom of a lineup. The 30-year-old played second, third, short and some left field. Barney is another professional hitter the Phils could use for cheap.

Andres Blanco

We sure know Blanco as the jack-of-all-trades. He also has played every infield position, some outfield, and even served as the Phils’ emergency catcher. In three seasons with the Phils, Blanco hit .274 with a .337 on-base percentage. “Whitey” provided more than just a role on the field, acting as a mentor to the team’s young players. On numerous occasions, Blanco was seen guiding Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco through a prior at bat or play in the field. If the Phils are already comfortable with Blanco, why not bring him back? Blanco makes the most sense at an economical price.

Once J.P. Crawford is ready to take on a starting role in Philadelphia, Blanco could be used as a trade chip at the deadline for a team in the hunt desperate for an experienced bench bat. Freddy Galvis would then move into the all-purpose role.

These are the five most likely options and good fits for the Phils. The question that lies beneath the decision is whether the Phils choose experience or inexperience, a la Valentine. The good thing – the Phils don’t need to make a long-term commitment to any of the free agents because Valentine is bound to be in Philadelphia at some point, now that he has been added to the 40-man roster. Now, of course, none of these guys are going to knock our socks off, but one of them will serve an important role on the Phillies heading into the 2017, as this team continues to build.

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