There’s been lots of talk lately that the Phils are in discussion to extend Chase Utley’s contract. Many questions come to mind when you consider the possibilities Ruben Amaro faces in how he handles the Phillies most popular player. There are three viable routes the GM can take.
The most prevalent feeling emanating from the Phils front office is they will re-sign Chase Utley, if not before the trade deadline then afterward. Utley is still a productive offensive 2nd baseman, but the real question surrounds his health; particularly that of two chronic degenerative knees. Since 2010 Utley has appeared in 376 of a possible 590 games for the Phils and has spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons. As with any signing there is a risk-reward aspect that needs scrutinizing.
If the Phils do extend Utley how many years do they go and at what cost? How much risk are they willing to take on to resign the fan favorite? If the contract is for 2-3 years and Utley wants to play beyond that, what then? If the goal is to make Utley a Phillie for life will they extend him again entering his age 37 or 38 season? While still very good Utley is not the player he was in his prime. In 2005-09 Utley was undoubtedly the best 2nd baseman in the game. His slash line of .301/.388/.535 coupled with averaging 111 runs, 101 RBI’s and 29 HR’s a year made him stand head and shoulders above his peers. Sadly, that’s not the player they’ll be getting if they resign him. Too many times we’ve seen athletes paid for what they’ve done and not what they’ll do under their new contract. It has been the downfall of many aging teams – the unwillingness to move forward, thinking with their heart instead of their head.
The second option available to the Phils is to trade Utley now to a contender. There’s been interest from several teams including the free spending LA Dodgers and their neighbor to the north, the Oakland A’s. If he’s made available it’s a sure bet the list would grow. While not the player he was, Utley is still having a more than respectable season. His .277/.338/.504 line along with his work ethic and professionalism would be an asset many teams would covet in a stretch drive. What can Amaro get for Utley, if in fact he is listening as he indicated he would be on all players just two days ago? That should be Amaro’s biggest concern, but unfortunately it’s not his only one when weighing what to do with Utley. Amaro also needs to weigh the fan backlash of trading one of the Phillies most popular players in the history of the team. He needs to get a strong return to justify trading a Phillie icon.
A third option open to Amaro is to not trade or resign Utley during the season. He can continue exclusive talks up until November 1st, at which time Utley gains unrestricted free agent status. If an agreement is not made, Amaro may tender Utley a one-year qualify offer of approximately $13,800,000. This would ensure if the Phils can’t resign their aging star, at the very least they’ll come away with a team’s first round pick in the 2014 amateur draft. Is a first round pick in 2014 worth more than he can get for Utley before the trade deadline?
There’s been very little talk of what’s been offered by teams who’d like to obtain Utley’s services for the stretch drive. Amaro knows he can’t just give Utley away for a mid-level prospect and won’t. He knows he needs to get back a player or prospect he can plug into the Phils lineup next year. Are teams willing to meet Amaro’s asking price? It’s probably high and should be. The guess here is that Utley will be a Phillie on August 1st. On August 22nd he gains 10/5 rights allowing him to veto any trade. He’d also need to clear waivers to be traded after July 31st and it’s doubtful he would. All signs point to an Utley return, but is that the right move for an aging team in desperate need of young blood and an energy boost?
The Phils insist they’re re-tooling and not rebuilding. They tell us they’ll be competitive again in 2014. This sounds eerily familiar to what we heard last winter – that with a couple of key additions and good health the Phils would be in the thick of it. It hasn’t worked out as the Phils have been plagued by injuries and their one-time super star players are regressing – as well as being the primary victims of the injuries that have decimated the Phils chances this year.