Utley stands out in crowd of NL second basemen

Utley stands out in crowd of NL second basemen

Balloting continues for Major League Baseball's 85th All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field in Minnesota, and fans can cast their votes using the 2014 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Experian. Deciding who should get voted into the starting lineup can be challenging. Today, Richard Justice and Phil Rogers discuss National League second basemen.

Justice: Meet the old boss -- same as the new boss. That's Chase Utley. Who knew? It shows that the hardest thing to measure is heart and drive. When he missed 186 games between 2010 and '12, I'm guessing we both figured we'd seen the last of him, at least the last of Utley performing at a high level. That he could get on the field for 131 games last season was a moral victory in itself.

Now at 35 years old, Utley is hitting .340. He's also leading all NL second basemen with a .958 OPS. To see him back in the All-Star Game for the first time since 2010 would be a terrific story. He's not ever going to be Brandon Phillips in terms of defense, but he's still a really solid player. Tip of the hat to Dee Gordon, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy and Brandon Hicks, but I'm going with Chase. Who ya got?

Rogers: Brandon Hicks? I'm surprised you didn't give him more thought. First, he's an Aggie, and I know you love your Texas A&M Aggies, but more important is that he is the stat guy's guy. At least I'm figuring he must be. As of this morning, he's hitting .195 and yet he's second to Chase Utley in WAR among second basemen. He's second to Neil Walker in home runs and leads second basemen in walks and he's been playing great defense. Those are the tangibles. As for the intangibles, he's stepped in for Marco Scutaro to do his part on a Giants team that has been one of the best stories of this season. He and the other Brandon, Crawford, are a terrific double-play combination. But, yet, he is hitting .195, so I'll let someone else push him.

When you watch the Pirates, you get a real appreciation for Walker. To me, he's right behind Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin on the list of guys who make them go. And Dee Gordon? Who knew? The guy is 25 for 28 in steals. He's been one of the few consistent parts for the Dodgers. I wouldn't mind seeing him on Mike Matheny's roster. But you're right, some good players are going to get left off.

An amazing thing about Utley is that he has a .946 OPS and he isn't hitting home runs like he used to. He's just doing it with really solid hitting. Do you think he'll be a Phillie when the stretch run rolls around? Assuming he'd waive his 10/5 rights, wouldn't he be a great piece for the Yankees or even the Braves? Wouldn't that be something, the Phillies trading Utley to the Braves?

Justice: Brandon Phillips is a fascinating guy for me. He has been a member of the NL All-Star team three of the last four years and has won four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. Yet he's not even in our conversation.

He's the best defensive second baseman in the game by a wide margin. Problem is, his offensive numbers are so unimpressive. He's hitting .276, but not hitting home runs or walking. He's also striking out way too much. He's hitting .242 on the road and .211 with runners in scoring position. He'll turn 33 next month, but I'm wondering if there's something more going on. Did all those offseason trade rumors get into his head in some way? Is he showing up in a good frame of mind? I hate that he's feuding with the Cincinnati reporters. It just seems so childish. Compared to the idiotic things written about Joey Votto, Phillips doesn't seem to have a legitimate beef. The thing is, he's still a joy to watch, still a charismatic figure, still a guy I'd want on my club.

Rogers: I'm with you on Phillips. He's an all-around player and can be a joy to be around. Remember when he just popped in on a Little League game a couple years ago? I don't know if he's right. He hasn't been driving the ball nearly as well since he hurt his hand last year. He played through it, to his credit, but has it been fixed? He just doesn't seem like quite the same guy.

Don't you know it kills the Padres that Jedd Gyorko isn't in our discussion? He was their best player last year but is checking in with a .154 batting average and a .493 OPS. That shows how unpredictable baseball is. It's got to be a killer for the individuals involved but it is part of the beauty of the sport. It is just so difficult to produce year in and year out. Those pitchers are pretty good. We've barely mentioned Murphy. He's a guy who seems to have figured out how to be a consistent hitter/on-base guy.

Justice: I'm glad you mentioned Murphy. That guy takes a lot of grief for not being -- I don't know -- Rogers Hornsby. But he's a terrific player, a tough player, a hard-nosed guy. Terry Collins moves him around in the lineup, knowing the guy will do his job, never complain, put the team first. He has caught fire lately since Collins put him back in the No. 2 hole and decided to leave him there because Murphy is most comfortable there.

For his part, Murphy deflects the praise, saying jokingly that he has just gotten lucky. He also says that everything changes for him when David Wright is hitting because "if pitchers have to choose between the two of us to pitch to, they'll pick me every time." I also appreciate in a weird sort of way that in a very intense media atmosphere, Murphy appears perfectly happy to take it or leave it. He just doesn't seem to need the spotlight. He just wants to play, and that's probably another reason the Mets like him.

Rogers: I think that brings us back around to where we started -- Chase Utley. It will be fitting if he starts for the NL at Target Field. The great Philies teams that beat the Rays in 2008, lost to the Yankees in '09 and went to the playoffs three other years all had him in the middle of the order. He's like Dustin Pedroia -- a huge asset as a second baseman who can mash. If I'm building a team, that's the kind of guy I want at second base. It's what the Cubs hope Javier Baez will be to help them turn the corner. He could be in this conversation as soon as next year, but for the moment I'm not sure what's left to add. You were right -- the new boss is the same as the old boss.

Richard Justice and Phil Rogers are columnists for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.