On the injury front, Phillies feel Yankees' pain

By Paul Hagen / 12/03/12 10:07 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coming off another playoff appearance, a high-profile team went into the following season with big question marks about one side of its infield.
That would be the Phillies, who opened 2012 without second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard. Utley didn't play until June 27 because of a chronic knee condition. Howard made his first appearance on July 6 because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. By then, the five-time National League East champions were 11 games under .500 and 13 games out of first. Even a strong finish couldn't overcome the deficit, and the Phils missed the postseason for the first time since 2006.
So if anybody could empathize with the news that broke Monday at the Winter Meetings that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is expected to miss the first three months of the season recuperating from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, it's Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. That's because Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is also coming off a broken left ankle suffered during the American League Championship Series.
"It's no fun," Amaro said when asked about having two high-profile All-Star infielders sidelined at the same time.
The Phillies' general manager laughed when asked if there's anything the Yankees can learn from what he went through.
"[Yankees GM Brian Cashman] is a smart guy," he said. "He's going to try to put his team in a position to fill those holes, and he's probably got pretty good internal options. He has some guys who have experience, because there are some guys who played in A-Rod's place in the past. So I would never put it past him to fill the holes.
"But it's not fun."
The situations are not exact parallels. At this time a year ago, the Phillies were cautiously optimistic that Howard might be back by May 1. But when the surgical wound became infected during Spring Training, the timetable was pushed back. And they didn't know Utley would have further knee problems until he got to Clearwater, Fla.
The Yankees, on the other hand, fully expect Jeter to be ready, if not by Opening Day or at least close to it. And they're fully prepared to be without Rodriguez for much or most of the first half.
The Phillies were also holding their own until ace right-hander Roy Halladay went on the disabled list with shoulder problems in late May. And third baseman Placido Polanco was limited to 90 games by injuries, creating a revolving door at the hot corner that caused a significant defensive drop-off.
Cashman allowed that losing A-Rod is "a significant blow," but also pointed out that he always tries to anticipate any possible misfortune and make preparations for any eventuality.
"We're just checking off our what-if column," he explained. "We do that every winter. It's just that this time we know we're going to be without Alex for a period of time."
For that reason, Cashman said, his approach will change surprisingly little considering what a large loss this could be.
"Where do we go from here? I'm going through the winter with the sole intent of trying to improve the club," he said. "We're not going to overreact."
If the Yankees don't suffer further injuries to key players, as the Phillies did, they may be able to ride out this storm better than the team they beat in the 2009 World Series was able to do last season.
"I'm certainly not afraid of this challenge. We've dealt with situations like this before," Cashman said. "We will be Alex Rodriguez-less, and we are not the better for that. But we've done it before. We've just got to figure out a way to get through it. Take a step back and deal with it.
"We won't operate any differently."