Chase Utley: Is the All-Star outta here?

Game shows have less questions than those surrounding Chase Utley.

When will the All-Star return to the Phillies’ lineup after being diagnosed with patellar tendinitis and chrondomalacia and bone inflammation in his right knee? How effective will he be when he does come back? And what exactly is Utley’s value?

“It’s not what it was two or three years ago,” a baseball executive told Metro. “Injuries have diminished his value. Part of the reason he became such a great player was because of how tough he is. He always played the game hard.

“He was never afraid to get hit by a pitch. There are a lot of hard miles on his body. Will his body bounce back? We’ll see. He has had a lot of injuries and he’s not healthy now.”

The 32-year-old will make $15 million a year through the 2013 season. Utley has had hip, hand and thumb surgery. Now, add a balky knee.

“You just wonder how much he’ll be able to play when he does come back,” the executive said. “Will he ever be able to play 140-plus games and how good will he be? He was a vital part of the Phillies’ success. Can he still be that in the future?”

Utley has driven in more than 100 runs four times, hit more than 30 home runs in a season on three occasions and owns a .293 lifetime average. Two years ago, he was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Decade Team

“There’s no doubt that Chase is a special player,” teammate Jimmy Rollins said. “He’s a difference maker.”

But just how much of a difference will he make in 2011? After playing in just 115 games last season — the second baseman has missed 88 games over the past four seasons — it appears Utley will miss Opening Day and then some.

Let’s make a deal

There have been no published reports about the Phillies trading Chase Utley. But is it that absurd? At age 32, it might be the right time. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios:

1 Young and restless —Michael Young wants out, and the Rangers are willing to pay half his salary. The Phillies have reportedly asked about the All-Star third baseman. Maybe if they sweeten the pot — perhaps a package of Utley, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino for Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and cash? It’s a steep price but could make sense, if Placido Polanco moved to second.

2 Ruffle feathers — The Phillies have made calls about the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jon Jay, a 26-year-old outfielder who batted .300 last season. He’s more of a platoon player but could emerge into an everyday starter, just as Jayson Werth. Utley straight up for Jay is a ridiculous thought, but what if the Cardinals threw in reliever Trever Miller. After all, Brad Lidge isn’t 100 percent.

3 Kansas City prime — The Royals boast the deepest and most talented prospects in MLB. It’s doubtful that they would want to get older and increase payroll by adding Utley. If they did, however, maybe the Phils could pry away an uber-prospect, such as left-handers Danny Duffy, Michael Montgomery or John Lamb. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella would be a nice throw-in.

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