Yesterday, Tim Kelly explained why he thought the Phillies should trade Chase Utley. If the rumors are to believed, the Phillies will not be trading him, and instead are on the verge of signing him to a contract extension.
I’ll start out by admitting that any sort of commitment to Utley is dangerous due to his health. His knees will be a constant concern, and as this year’s stint on the disabled list shows, he can’t seem to make it through an entire season without getting injured.
Despite those factors, there are a few reasons why it makes more sense to extend Utley instead of trading him.
Some people favor trading Utley so that the Phillies can replenish their diminished farm system. If they were offered an amazing deal (Two top-100 rated prospects?) then they would definitely have to consider it. But I don’t see any team offering anywhere near that much for Utley.
Other teams see the same thing the Phillies do: An older player who hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season, and due to the uncertainty regarding his knees, contract negotiations with him will likely be difficult. Unless a team thinks Utley would be the piece that puts them over the top this season, I don’t envision them offering up that good of a return.
Unless you’re going to get an overwhelming return for him, then it probably doesn’t make sense to trade him due to…
Chase Utley might be the most popular player in Phillies history. Phillies fans REALLY love this guy. You know the level of Utley worship shown by Mac on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? That’s actually a pretty realistic representation of how some people feel about Utley.
Admittedly, fan sentiment and good baseball sense are often at odds with each other. But if the Phillies are about to undergo a re-tooling process, keeping Utley around might be a good way to keep too many fans from jumping off the bandwagon.
No Obvious Replacement
If Chase Utley isn’t the Phillies second baseman in 2014, then who is?
Some people have a dream that the Phillies will go after Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in free agency. Since they were able to convince Cliff Lee to come to Philadelphia instead of the Yankees, why not do the same with Cano?
Based on past experience, if the Yankees want a free agent, they generally get him. In the Cliff Lee deal, the Phillies had Mrs. Lee and sentimentality on their side. Those will not be in their favor with Cano. (Well, I’m sure Mrs. Lee would want Cano in Philly, but I don’t think she holds much sway over him)
Since Cano is not a realistic option, the Phillies are not going to find anyone nearly as valuable to play second base even if Utley inevitably misses a chunk of the season.
Some people think that minor league infielder Cesar Hernandez would make a suitable replacement. Hernandez might prove to be a decent player, but there’s little evidence that he is going to be a star at the major league level. He isn’t regarded as a top prospect, and most projections don’t see him ever hitting for much power.
I hate using the WAR statistic, but even in his diminished 2011 and 2012 seasons, Utley still provided over 3.0 WAR. The Phillies would be thrilled if Hernandez ever reaches those levels.
Extending Utley would indeed be a huge risk for the Phillies. His health might continue to deteriorate and his contract could become a burden on an already bloated Phillies payroll. But as I have explained, based on the value he provides both on and off the field, it may very well be a risk worth taking.