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What Should the Phillies Do with Chase Utley?

Jul 25, 2013, 3:29 PM EDT

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In the midst of a four-game losing streak with less than a week to go until the trade deadline, it would seem the Phillies are sliding comfortably into “seller” territory. However, Ruben Amaro Jr. has exhibited reluctance when it comes to the notion of moving some of the club’s biggest pieces.

Cliff Lee’s name had all but fallen off the radar by the All-Star break. Now word has it Chase Utley won’t be on the block, either. In fact, Jim Salisbury reported on Thursday that the Phils and Utley might be talking contract extension, adding the team is not even listening to offers for the second baseman at this point in time.

That they are looking into an extension shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Earlier this month Amaro told reporters he hoped Utley would be a Phillie for life. Likewise, Utley admitted he can’t envision wearing another uniform within the last two weeks. The writing has been on the wall for awhile.

We’ll get into whether or not this is a good idea in a moment, but first here’s why the timing of these discussions make sense. If the Phils are interested in re-signing Utley, who can become a free agent at season’s end, that means right now – before the deadline – is the time to start hashing out a deal, or at least confirm both sides are on the same page. That way if negotiations aren’t working out, it’s not too late to ship him out.

But beyond sentimental reasons, you might be wondering why the Phillies want to hold on to Utley. He’ll turn 35 in December, hasn’t played anywhere close to a full season since 2009, and chronic knee problems that caused him to miss consecutive spring trainings and several months of baseball in ’11 and ’12 have to be a concern.

The answer might be simpler than you think. Even with his age and injury history, there are few second basemen in baseball better than Utley. His non-qualified .520 slugging percentage would be tops in the Majors at the position, his .866 OPS good for fourth, while 3.2 wins above replacement ranks fifth.

Does anybody honestly think the Phillies are going to be able to replace that kind of production with another player? Utley will be the second-best free agent on the market behind Robinson Cano (and he’s not getting out of New York), and who in their farm system is a better option? Cesar Hernandez? Freddy Galvis?

Some would suggest the Phillies aren’t necessarily looking for “better” as much as they are simply trying to get younger, but you have to ask yourself whether the prospect(s) they would get in return for a rental player combined with the downgrade at second base would actually be more helpful than Utley. Remember, we’re talking about a big-market team that is currently scheduled to shed over $50 million in salary this offseason. They have to get younger, although not necessarily at the expense of trying to compete in 2014 and beyond.

What an extension will cost might be the most prescient question of all. Obviously nobody wants to see the Phillies get locked into another lengthy, expensive contract with an aging veteran. Dealing with Utley might not be too taxing though. David Murphy presented an estimate of sorts for the Daily News:

Dustin Pedroia recently signed a contract extension that, on its back end, will pay him $40 million over the three years in which he will be 35, 36 and 37 years old. Ian Kinsler will make $23 million for his 35-year-old and 36-year-old seasons. Kevin Youkilis signed a one-year, $12 million deal for his 34-year-old season this year. So we can say that the going rate for a second/third baseman of Utley’s ilk is around $13 million per season.

$13 million is actually slightly less than Utley is earning ($15M) for 2013, and it’s hard to imagine he’d get more than three years from anybody. That still may be a bit on the long side, especially with full a no-movement, but he’s demonstrated this season that there is still quite a bit left in the tank.

At this stage everybody is aware of the risks associated with Utley, and knows he needs a new contract. But beyond wishing to see him retire as a Phillie, there’s typically not much mention of the upside to keeping him around – which mainly boils down to he’s the best the organization can do for now or in the immediate future it would appear.

Truthfully, Utley is the best that a lot of teams could do at second base, and probably will be for at least another year or two. Galvis and Hernandez might be nice players in their own right, but is either one of them going to reach the level of a five-time All Star? A Hall-of-Fame talent? Would trading Utley net a player or players who will ever be worth even close to as much as he is today?

These are difficult questions to answer. If I’m Amaro, I’m still playing both sides of this, and my refusal to take calls on Utley is only to drive the price up. At the same time, I still need a second baseman, so I’m not just giving this one away.

What would you do?

>> Contract extension for Utley? Sure seems like it [CSN]
>> Breakdown of what a Chase Utley extension would look like [DN]

  1. EverybodyHits99 - Jul 25, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    Don’t trade Utley unless you are going to do a full re-working of this team. That means Papelbon goes, Ruiz goes, Young goes, maybe Lee goes, and we see guys like Asche and Cesar for the rest of 2013. I don’t see that happening. I really think Rube is going to do some minor moves no matter what happens.

    Reply
    • JimM. - Jul 25, 2013 at 11:11 PM

      agreed, don’t move him unless you blow the fucker up, and i mean to the ground. Philadelphia doesn’t get titles all that often and as PJ said, you’d be losing a keystone from that title run. you’d also be losing a player who’s personality was Philly, from “boo..? fuck you.” to “world champions. world fuckin’ champions!” Hes my favorite Phillie since Luzinski.

      Now at the same time if you can get an awesome deal for him at the deadline, pull the trigger. If you don’t, reign him in for a final 3 years. You still have at the very least an above replacement level (worst case) to allstar (best case) 2nd baseman.

      Reply
    • Ton - Jul 26, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      3 years, for $30M, no more.

      Reply
    • Hiccup - Jul 28, 2013 at 7:39 AM

      We should keep Utley for three years then put him in the broadcast booth to replace Wheels and Matthews. Better yet put him in the booth now, I don’t think I can take anymore of Gary and Chris as the Phiilies continue the slide into obscurity.

      Reply
  2. PJ - Jul 25, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    He’s can be clutch at the plate, but defensively he’s a mess this year and the last couple of years with injuries aren’t enough to warrent a contract longer than a year. If somebody out there is willing to pay for him and he’s going to a contender, the Phils are doing alright by letting him go. Otherwise, the only way he walks is if management wants to overall, like ’99 above said. If that’s the case, you’re losing another one or two players from that magical ’08 run.

    Reply
    • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 4:29 PM

      While he’s had more hiccups defensively, the stats say he’s still one of the best fielders in the game at second this year.

      Also, as Andrew said, he’s been one of the most productive players at the position even with the missed time.

      Reply
      • Hiccup - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:43 PM

        Yes ?

      • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:47 PM

        lol – so what are the thumbs down for?

      • PJ - Jul 26, 2013 at 8:38 AM

        Funny thing is, if you go by the average of errors per total chances*, Utley is one of the worst in the MLB this year. He’s currently sitting with .967 (ranked 53 out of 59 for 2B) with 12 errors this season, and that’s with the time off. Daniel Murphy, on the Mets, also has 12 errors but has played in 17 more game this season.

        The 2013 numbers say that Utley, though while valuable with the bat and a moderate defender when the ball is hit his way, is one of the biggest liabilities for his position. If there’s a chance a second baseman will error, Utley’s going to be your man to make that mistake.

        *Average of errors per total chances = Put outs plus Assists divided by Putouts plus assists plus errors (PO+A)/(PO+A+E)

      • aladou2 - Jul 26, 2013 at 8:54 AM

        Old school fielding stats? Are you going to compare batting averages next?

        Both the main versions of advanced stats (UZR and Total Zone) agree that Utley has been one of the best defenders at 2nd this year (again).

      • Jeff - Jul 26, 2013 at 9:32 AM

        Utley’s third in UZR, UZR/150 (behind Barney & Phillips)
        Utley’s first in Range Runs.
        Utley’s -4.0 in Error Runs (lowest by starting 2B).

        He is middle of the pack in Double Play Runs.

        I do agree with PJ that Average of Errors per Total Chances is a key statistic, Utley’s other defensive stats show that he’s still up there in terms of his fielding ability.

    • eric - Jul 25, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      None of this is correct.

      Reply
      • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:36 PM

        lol – yep

  3. brian - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    What Utley does at the plate and on the field is one thing to consider, regardless of age and recent injury he is one of the best second baseman available. Also, he is a huge, huge positive influence in the clubhouse. He is a leader of the team and his impeccable work-ethic and studious approach to the game is permeable and would be an unquantifiable asset as the team eventually becomes younger.

    Reply
  4. Mostel - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    SELL SELL SELL. We need to rebuild this team. Given how well Utley stacks up vs. other 2nd basemen, he should net something of value (even as a rental) and there isn’t a reason that we can’t resign him this offseason.

    Reply
  5. BenE. - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Utley would be a great complementary piece on a contender. By complementary, I mean he fills a pressing need for a team, but wouldn’t be considered part of the core. For example, Utley would be a great fit for the Baltimore Orioles.

    Reply
    • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      OK, except he instantly becomes the 2nd (or at worst, 3rd) best player on the team. Is that still “complementary”?

      Reply
      • BenE. - Jul 25, 2013 at 6:08 PM

        I’d put Davis, Jones, and Machado above Utley, but that wasn’t what I was getting at. Utley would not be part of the core in Baltimore. The Orioles already have a core. They would not build around Utley. They would use Utley to reinforce what they already have.

      • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 8:55 PM

        Jones and Machado have played more and so have bigger numbers, but game for game Utley is having a better year than Jones, and is similar to Machado.

      • sfsu - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:24 PM

        Adam Jones over Utley? Holy shit. This is like arguing that Lebron James would be a complementary player for the Sixers because Thaddeus Young is part of the inherent core.

      • BenE. - Jul 25, 2013 at 11:12 PM

        What the hell are you talking about?

      • sfsu - Jul 26, 2013 at 1:00 AM

        Baseball.

  6. Observer - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    Sell high. It’s not what he is doing now, for a non-contender, it’s what he will be doing one, two, three years from now. Market him on the basis of those “fourth-best in the majors” numbers, and get what you can. We have a kid hitting .320 in AAA – give him a shot. If he doesn’t work out, it doesn’t cost you anything. Utley is 35! 35.

    Reply
  7. Matt S. - Jul 25, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    Chase is still a good player and will always be one of my favorites but I don’t see what the point of keeping him would be. Even in a relatively weak National League the Phillies aren’t anywhere close to being a playoff team and won’t be for the next couple of years with or without Chase Utley. Utley’s value is only going to drop as he gets older and how do you know he would even want to play here after his contract expires this season leaving you with nothing in return? If you can get some good looking prospects back for Utley then by all means pull the trigger.

    Reply
  8. Andy Schreiber - Jul 25, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Chase is the heart & soul of this Phillies team. (Think Jeter for the Yankees, albeit with lesser accomplishments.) Re-sign him. He’s good for the ball club going into the future.

    And $15 million/year is not that much when you consider what lesser players (e.g. Victorino, Rollins, etc.) are making.

    Why trade him just to trade him? No one is going to give up a future cornerstone player for him. And if that is the case, why bother?

    Personally, I don’t ever want to see Chase playing for another team.

    Trade Papelbon, both Youngs, even Chooch. But keep Utley. Period.

    P.S. PLEASE can we stop wasting roster spots with guys like Michael Martinez and John McDonald???

    Reply
    • aladou2 - Jul 25, 2013 at 8:48 PM

      Agreed. He’s still an elite player when he’s on the field. And even when he misses time, he’s still one of the most productive players at his postion, as the author said. It will be nearly impossible for any of his anticipated replacements to replace the production Utley generates in even a half or 2/3 season.

      Reply
  9. sfsu - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    Utley is consistently rated as one of the best defensive second-basemen in the league. In fact, Fangraphs rates Utley as the best DEFENSIVE second-baseman of all-time. Yes, I realize he doesn’t have the lateral range or the pure arm that Rollins owns, but 1) your arm doesn’t matter when you play second base, and 2) your lateral range is much less important when you can anticipate where the ball is going to be hit before the pitch happens.

    It boils down to this: I’d rather have a defender who makes an error, than a defender who is unable to get to the ball in the first place.

    Since 2005, there is a mountain of evidence that Chase Utley is better than any infielder at positioning himself before the pitch: against left-handed hitters, he positions himself farther towards first-base, the pull-side, than any other second baseman (this obviously screams inefficiency, but this also a sport where Allan Selig has presided for 2 fucking decades). Utley is likely THE best defensive second-baseman of all-time, but it’s debatable whether he’s the overall best (Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan were pretty fucking good, despite Morgan’s mental capacity). It doesn’t matter if you’re quick or strong if you can simply put yourself in front of the ground-ball before it even happens. Rollins is more naturally talented (which is why he plays the harder position), but Utley is the ideal second-baseman.

    This entirely ignores Utley’s offense. Utley at half-strength is just as good offensively as the average corner outfielder; yet, his defense is infinitely more valuable than the average corner outfielder.

    This is why Utley has already posted a WAR this season of 3.1 despite missing a month (1.0 WAR is worth 5 million dollars, which means that 3 years/45 mil is almost certainly a DISCOUNT for the Phils to re-sign Utley), and if Utley is willing to sign this contract, then the Phillies need to do it. I don’t care if he only plays 90 games a year; his 90 games will be infinitely more productive than his replacements’ 162.

    Reply
    • eric - Jul 26, 2013 at 8:23 AM

      You lost everyone when you got all smart. Wrong crowd.

      Reply
    • Lindros88 - Jul 26, 2013 at 10:18 AM

      Taking off my Phillies-homer glasses…

      Utley wouldn’t crack the top fifteen in terms of defensive second basemen of all time. Players like Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Grich, Joe Gordon, Frankie Frisch and Bobby Doerr have hall of fame numbers and stand above everyone else.

      I don’t even think Utley is even the best defensive 2B on the Phillies all-time roster. That would be Nap Lajoie, an absolute monster who eventually found his way to Cleveland in 1902. Utley would be a solid runner-up to Lajoie though.

      Guys like Hornsby (who was awful on pop-flies) and Morgan (known more for his offense and leadership on the Big Red Machine) aren’t in the conversation.

      Reply
      • sfsu - Jul 28, 2013 at 12:21 AM

        “Utley wouldn’t crack the top fifteen in terms of defensive second basemen of all time. Players like Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Grich, Joe Gordon, Frankie Frisch and Bobby Doerr have hall of fame numbers and stand above everyone else.”

        This doesn’t mean anything. Fangraphs is the most un-biased source you can find, and all of these players are not close to Utley. I’ll trust an independent analytics firm more than Gargano’s favorite caller from Fishtown.

  10. jacksnutz - Jul 26, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Simple formula if you ask me. Keep Utley and Lee and build around them and Hamels and Howard (cause he is untradeable at this point). Everyone else can go aside from Dom Brown. We are deep at catcher in the minors and Chooch just doesn’t seem to have it anymore. We still have decent pitching but could use bullpen help. Say goodbye to both Youngs, adios to Chooch (even though we love him), Rollins should be shipped as well as Galvis is equally as good defensively and will probably pop out far less that Rollins. Detroit might be looking for a shortstop soon and there are two NL west teams that could use an upgrade at SS as well…. by J-Roll. Say goodbye to Papelbon and his riduculous contract. Rebuild the bullpen with young arms. We can still compete next year if that happens. If you trade Utley though, you are sacrificing the sould of the team and they will go the way of the Birds after they let Dawkins walk.

    Reply

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