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Is This Chase Utley’s Last Hurrah?

Posted by Ryan Dinger, Fri, March 29, 2013 09:00 AM | Comments: 25
2013 Spring Training, Analysis, Commentary, Posts

Is 2013 the last time we’ll see Chase Utley in a Phillies uniform?

Last week, I was having a discussion with an old friend about the upcoming Phillies season when he posed a question to me: Do you re-sign Chase Utley after 2013?

“Ask me in six months,” was my concise, detached response.

This type of exchange is not exclusive to my friend and me. All over the Delaware Valley, people are asking the very same question about Utley. Most Phillies fans have had the same uncertain response I did about whether to bring the long-time second baseman back.

There’s still time to decide and no reason to rush it.

But the common uncertainty surrounding Utley forces everyone to ask themselves the uncomfortable question: Is 2013 the last time we’ll see Utley in red pinstripes?

The thought causes a stir in me. It makes me reflect on the last decade watching Phillies baseball.

A part of me feels like we, as a fanbase, took Utley for granted in his prime. It’s been stated ad nauseum just how good he was from 2005-2009 (the best second baseman, and arguably the best position player, in baseball). It’s of no fault of ours. Many times you don’t recognize how good things are until they’re gone.

So when Utley began to decline suddenly in 2010, crippled by a chronic knee condition many of us had never heard of, we wondered how the glory days could have flown by so fast. After the 2009 season, when he posted a .905 OPS and hit five home runs in the World Series, Utley looked like he had at least five good years left in his future Hall of Fame career.

How popular was Utley in Philadelphia at that time?

I attended a game in 2009 with my uncle who is not much of a baseball fan. He’s an older guy known for his deadpan, no holds barred remarks.

As we walked through Ashburn Alley to our seats, he turned to me and said, “Jesus Christ, doesn’t anybody own a jersey for someone besides this Utley guy?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. But as I scanned the crowd, I noticed he was right–I couldn’t locate a single non-Utley jersey around us. The guy was royalty as far as this fanbase was concerned.

Suddenly, like his future with the Phils, Utley’s Hall of Fame chances are in doubt. And while he’s been an above average player in his decline, he’s been about half the 7.0 to 8.0 fWAR player he was in his heyday. Still, even the player he is now will be viewed as a valuable commodity on the open market, especially with American League teams that can provide respite by DHing him occasionally. With about $105M already committed to just a handful of players in 2014, and with the cost-effective Freddy Galvis, who the organization seemingly loves, waiting in the wings, one has to wonder how likely it is the Phils can retain Utley’s services.

So as the season gets set to kickoff, it’s important to cherish these moments with The Man. He’s been a key player for this team for a number of years, and an absolute joy to watch, even when he’s doing his version of scuffling. His hustle and his work ethic have been second to none. He, as much as any athlete I can remember watching, encompasses what Philadelphia looks for in its athletes–no flash, no guff, all business, all effort.

As we move into the regular season, remind yourself, with the trade deadline in July, we’re only guaranteed three more months of this. Remind yourself of that the next time you hear Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blare over the PA system at Citizens Bank Park. Remind yourself of just how much this player meant to the Phillies in their greatest era. Because after 2013, we may never have the pleasure of seeing him play for our city again.

Avatar of Ryan Dinger

About Ryan Dinger

Ryan Dinger has written 125 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ryan stated writing for Phillies Nation in 2012.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

    The best scenario would be for Chase to play well enough to drive his value up by the trade deadline. If he proves healthy he could be a legitimate trade chip, and if a team is desperate enough, maybe RAJ can score a real prospect in return. If the Cardinals were fighting it out with the Reds in July would they give up Oscar Taveras for Chase? They traded the highly touted Colby Rasmus in 2011, so they’re not afraid to part with young talent in the right situation. I could see the Dodgers looking for help at second as well. If they offered Yasiel Puig, how could you turn that down?

     
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    I guess your assuming the Phils wont be in contention Chris. More importantly what kind of contract would you offer Chase. If he bounces back its a big risk that his problems wont resurface.

     
    • Posts: 38 Ryan Dinger

      Avatar of Ryan Dinger

      Therein lies the real problem with Utley. If he has a great year, who’s to say it won’t be an anomaly? How do you quantify the potential gain of hid play when he’s healthy versus the risk of signing a guy who has had chronic health issues in the last few years. Especially when the team has to be careful with who they pay because they’re already limited with the financial commitments they’ve already made. Do you buy that his new routine is effective enough to keep him healthy? Would Utley be willing to accept a lesser contract (say two years, between $16M-$22M) to stay in Philly?

      It’s a lot to ponder.

       
    • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

      I figure they’ll be in third place again, right around the .500 mark. If you have a chance to squeeze a good prospect out of a team trying to make a push to the post season, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

      I don’t see how having Utley here in his age 35/36/37 seasons can turn into a positive for the team (I’m assuming Utley would want multiple years). It’s very risky giving any 35 year old player a multi-year deal – let alone a guy with a history of knee problems. We’ve already seen first hand how multi-year deals to players in that age bracket usually turn out (Ibanez & Polanco).

       
      • Posts: 1135 EricL

        Avatar of EricL

        Well, having Utley here in his age 35-37 seasons would be a positive for the team if he’s still better than any of their other options. Which he very well may be, considering the alternatives. Second base is not a deep position around the league, and the Phillies really have no heir apparent unless you believe that Freddy Galvis can learn how to approach an at bat.

        Even then, I always thought the plan was to use Galvis as Rollins’ replacement, as his last guaranteed year is 2014. So, if you let Utley go, you either shift Galvis into a second baseman, and then have to find a shortstop in 2015/16 or you use Galvis at 2nd next year, then shift him to short sometime thereafter, at which point you need to find a second baseman.

        If you look at the free agent market for second and short over the next couple years, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that there is a pretty good chance that an older Chase Utley is going to be better than any of those available options.

         
      • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

        You don’t know how good (or healthy) Utley will be in 2013, let alone 2014-2016. Also, I’d like to think that RAJ isn’t solely relying on free agency to build this team. There are plenty of other ways (usually more cost effective) to acquire players.

         
      • Posts: 1135 EricL

        Avatar of EricL

        Yeah, I don’t know how healthy any player is going to be.

        But if Chase is able to have a relatively injury free 2013, that might be a risk that’s better than, say, trying to run Caesar Hernandez out there in a couple years or something. Because even 65% of peak-Utley is better than most of the other options in the league.

        Of course, it all depends on what kind of contract he’s looking for, how many years, and any number of other factors. All I’m saying is that there is a not insignificant chance that re-signing Utley is the best move they can realistically make for production at second base over the next 3 years.

        I’m not sure where you get the “plenty of other ways to acquire players” from though. As far as I can tell there’s (1) the draft/minor leagues, (2) free agency, (3) trades/rule 5 acquisitions. Of those, the best and most cost-effective is usually the draft, followed by the other two. But that’s still kind of limited.

         
      • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

        Eric – Of course those are exactly the other methods. The point is that looking a projected free agent list on MLBTR and proclaiming “position scarcity” two years down the road is borderline silliness. It’s also not a reason to hand out a bad contract. There are always players available around the league for various reasons.

         
  • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

    As a comparison, in a very similar situation two seasons ago the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants for Zack Wheeler. Like Utley, Beltran was at the end of his contract. Like Utley, Beltran was a great player with a recent history of injuries. In 2011, Beltran was able to perform at a level that made the Giants confident enough in his health that they traded one of their top prospects to the Mets. Today, Wheeler is considered to be the eighth best prospect in baseball.

     
    • Posts: 5078 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Hey there Chris, you’ve made a decent comparison. But I think you are missing the most important factor that EricL was trying to point out. Look at the amount of outfielders that play a similar game to Beltran, then look at the dearth of second baseman that play as well as a diminished Utley. IMO- That’s the key, positional value. A good outfielder is a lot easier to find than a good second baseman.

      I’d even take it a step further and say that if they wanted to trade Utley, they would have gotten the most back after the 2009 season (5 HR’s in the WS) right before his knee problems. Of course no one knew then, that he was about to encounter knee problems including the Phillies apparently. But now they know. This is why I think your example was good because Beltran had his injury problems too. IMO- It’s just off the mark due to positional value.

       
      • Posts: 1135 EricL

        Avatar of EricL

        I’m not willing to concede that. The Phillies still have the ability to be among the highest payrolls in the league, which can go a long way to plugging holes pretty quickly. They’re also going to see a massive influx of television money in a couple years when they re-sign their new TV deal, which some estimates say may potentially eclipse the Dodgers recent $7 billion dollar deal.

        The Phillies need to get younger and retool the team makeup a bit, but a team with this kind of payroll, with this kind of attendance and television ratings, and with so much at stake in this next TV deal, will not go into a tear-it-all-down and rebuild mode. They have the money to reload, rather than rebuild, and I fully expect to see them do that in the next year or two. Give some time for guys like Asche and Morgan and Biddle to break into the bigs and use the savings they get from those guys on their entry-level, pre-arbitration deals to fill in the holes elsewhere.

        The Braves won’t be able to sustain their current roster because of their TERRIBLE TV deal which hamstrings their payroll flexibility. They have a couple years until they inevitably lose Heward and Freeman, and their rotation is already somewhat questionable. The Nationals are going to be good for some time, but there’s no reason the Phillies can’t be right there with them with some judicious spending and acquisitions, and you can really never tell what’s going to happen from year to year. Guys get injured, teams outperform their talent level, guys get suspended, whatever. So, no, I’m not ready to concede the division to the Nationals for the next handful of years just yet.

         
      • Posts: 0 Chris Norton

        Payroll has no real correlation to winning – just look at the Cardinals & Giants. They’ve both won two WFCs in the past decade. It’s nice to have money to spend, but what often happens is that a team loses it’s maneuverability when it locks a lot of aging stars into long term deals (Yankees, Boston). There’s a balance that needs to be maintained, and a healthy farm system needs to be a large part of it.

        To me, offering Utley more years (at a time when Howard, Lee, and Papelbon are guaranteed big money during their decline seasons) is just bad management – no matter how much you “think” they’ll commit to payroll in the future.

         
      • Posts: 5078 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20130328_Future_is_coming_soon_for_the_Phillies.html

        They won’t go into full rebuild mode, at least not as long as RA jr. is running things.

         
      • Posts: 1135 EricL

        Avatar of EricL

        Chris, the Yankees have missed the playoffs once since 1995, winning 4 world series titles, while maintaining a high payroll, and signing/trading for players other teams could no longer afford. So, yeah, I’d be okay if they took the high-salary, old-but-good-player path of the Yankees.

         
  • Posts: 0 Shine Box

    Love the guy, but the Phils can’t commit to him long term. With declining numbers and a chronic knee condition anything more than a year or two is too much.

     
  • Posts: 1 lionelhutz

    Avatar of lionelhutz

    If Utley would take a 2yr, $20MM with 3rd vesting year based on games played I’d do it. We have one possibly major league ready middle infielder in Galvis, a depleted farm system with limited trade chips and the middle infield market is a bit of a desert looking foward.

    For what Utley can give you over 130-140 games he’s worth that kinda money.

    Now if he was 3yr, 30+ well then, I guess you prob. gotta let him go.

     
  • Avatar of "Big Ed" Delahanty

    I think we should see how his season pans out as far as injuries and the such. I know that sounds simplistic, but it’s the best gauge as to whether he gets a contract or free agency, and if he gets a contract offer, the stipulations. In the end, it is going to come down to what both parties agree or disagree on. No sense trying to predict it. Personally, I hope he has an awesome season.

     
    • Posts: 2069 Brooks

      Avatar of Brooks

      I’m with you Ed.
      Utley is still one of the premier 2nd basemen in the league, when healthy and, at his age what is the potential trade value?
      140 games and offer a short but not too sweet contract. I don’t believe there will be many takers at this point in his career.

       
  • Posts: 0 Bob D

    Chase wont be traded if the Phils fall out of contention, if they offer him arbitration they can get a draft pick. Galvis may be needed for SS or 3B also if injury occur or Ashe fails to play well enough and Frandsen is not bac.

     
  • Posts: 0 Bob in Bucks

    I am afraid that RAJ presumes that if he keeps the starting 5 he can have another 2008 even if it is 2016.

     
    • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

      This made me laugh out loud.

      Just curious what year is Howard signed through?

       
  • Posts: 0 Joe a

    I would say we could have the same debate about whether Chooch and Doc will be back next year. For all there, I’d say the decisions hinge on how well they play this year, how well the team plays, and whether RAJ sees better players he can replace them with.

     
  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    A cynic might say his last hurrah was in 2009.

    Hasnt been much since.

    That would have been the time to deal him. ( see Mets trade R.A. Dickey)

    At this point he is probably worth more to us than what youd get back in a deal.

     
    • Posts: 0 jake

      Utley was a 5.8, 3.7 and 3.0 WAR player in the three seasons since 2009. That made him the 5th most valuable 2nd basemen in all of baseball per WAR.

      No, he wasn’t the 2005-2009 Utley (possibly the most valuable player in baseball). But he was still very valuable. Moreover at $5M per WAR he was reasonably paid.

       
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