1. He’s still good:
Although injuries have kept him off the field for large chunks of three of the last four seasons, Chase Utley still performs when healthy, as you’re seeing this year. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs had a fantastic tweet last night, noting Utley is still 27th in baseball over the last three seasons with an 11.7 WAR. That’s better than Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Carlos Beltran, and Hanley Ramirez, among many others. Since the beginning of 2012, he’s ranked 5th in WAR among all second basemen.
2. They still need power:
You’re definitely seeing Utley begin to decline, but the numbers are still solid. He’s hitting for power in a lineup that mostly lacks it with 15 home runs. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .505 slugging percentage would rank 15th in the National League.
3. It’s fair market value:
If you asked every GM around baseball whether or not they would ink Chase Utley to a two-year, $27 million deal, the overwhelming answer would be “yes.” And over the next two seasons would you rather have Chase Utley at $13.5 million or Robinson Cano at $23.5 million? Because that’s what it would cost to get Cano, except you’ll have to tack about four more seasons on the contract. If the third season was guaranteed I would have a major issue with it, but Amaro seemingly held firm. Plus, money really isn’t an issue with this team anyway with a massive TV contract just up the road.
4. Second Base is ugly:
Over pretty much every other second baseman that would be available to the Phillies, he pushes them closer to being a winning team in the short term. Save for Robinson Cano, there isn’t much available in free agency. And say what you want about Cesar Hernandez, but he too is an unknown. I, as much as anyone, wants to see what Hernandez can do. But does it make sense to risk that position on an unknown when you have something that works there right now? My colleague Eric Seidman posted a fantastic tweet on the subject stating that even with Utley playing 110 games and Hernandez/Galvis filling in for the rest, the Phils would probably still get 4.5 WAR from that position, which would be among the tops in the game. So even if Utley is in the fold, Hernandez can give positive contributions.
5. He stays a Phillie for life:
I understand baseball a business and loyalty is lacking nowadays. However, you try to build your team around guys like Utley and hope they stick around forever. There aren’t many other players you feel comfortable doing that with. There is still sentimental value with Utley – just look around the ballpark. If he hadn’t been producing, then it’s easy to say he doesn’t deserve to be a Phillie for life, but that’s clearly not the case as the numbers above prove. Plus, weren’t we upset when Brian Dawkins left Philly prematurely? Why wouldn’t we be upset if the same were true with Utley following this season?
5a. He’s still marketable:
It’s Ruben Amaro’s job to field a contending team, every season. If you like that or not, Amaro is going about it in that way. Plus, Chase Utley still sells jerseys, t-shirts, and everything else that has his name on it. Cole Hamels said following his start on Wednesday night that Chase Utley is the face of this franchise. When you think of the Phillies, his face stands out. There is value in that to a team. And unless Amaro has a change of heart, he’s going to be in win-now mode for 2014.
6. With Utley, the Phillies can still contend:
If the Phillies want to win the NL East next season and play for a World Series, Chase Utley helps you do that. Cesar Hernandez might be the second baseman of the future of this organization, but he’s not ready to be a middle-of-the-order bat that can take over games on his own. Utley is still that guy, as you’ve seen recently. It doesn’t all fall onto the shoulders of Utley to get them there, as Ruben Amaro has quite a task ahead of him this offseason in terms of strengthening the roster around him.
1. He’s not as good as he once was:
Utley is on the decline.Age will do that, and at 34-years-old he’s still producing, but not at the level we’re accustomed to. His on-base percentage is on pace to be the lowest of his career since he began playing full time in 2005. Utley’s dWAR is currently at 0.2, which would be, by far, the lowest of his fine defensive career.
2. He can’t stay healthy:
Assuming he plays tonight, of a possible 600 games since the start of 2010, Utley has played in 384. That’s poor. And if Utley isn’t on the field, he isn’t any good to the team. He has proven to be fairly healthy this season – except for his oblique issue. The knees haven’t been a problem, which is one of the reasons the Phillies have moved on with him in their plans. But as we know, Father Time always wins and it’s not going to get better from the point forward. And the way Utley plays – balls out every play, every at-bat – only hurts his ability to stay on the field for 162 games.
3. What about a youth movement?:
People keep asking about Cesar Hernandez and going forward with a youth movement. It’s a fair topic. Hernandez has done nothing but progress as he goes up the ladder, hitting .310 this season at Lehigh Valley while playing a solid second base. He’s also dabbled in center field. At 23, Hernandez represents the future and with the way the Phillies are going, why not get the wheels in motion on the future rather than wait too long?
4. He’s not the leader everyone thinks he is:
This one is slightly more complicated. With media at hyper-levels, we expect athletes to step up and speak and be “leaders”. Chase Utley isn’t that guy. Sure, he leads by example, playing hard on the field, but when do we ever hear from him off the field? The Phillies have been lacking veteran leadership over the past two seasons, and Utley hasn’t helped in that department. In fairness, we don’t see what goes on behind closed doors and what we do see is a quiet face of the franchise.
5. That’s nearly $50 million for three players in the infield:
At some point, the Phillies need to stop spending on aging players, and they could have walked the other way on Utley due to the fact that they have Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard already making a combined $36 million per season at least through next year. By adding in Utley’s roughly $13.5 million per season, you’re looking at $50 million locked up in three aging vets. Is that the best way to allocate money? I’d argue for the pro side by saying Howard is a sunk cost and other players contracts in a non-capped league shouldn’t prevent holding onto a very productive player at a very important position.
6. With Utley, they Phillies still won’t contend:
This has more to do with the job the GM does, not what Utley does on the field. But if you feel they’re better off allocating that $27 million elsewhere, that’s fine. That’s a lot of money that could be used toward other needs. The question then becomes, what will happen this offseason? And do you think Amaro has the wherewithal to put a solid plan together.
The pros outweigh the cons in my mind. This contract is only two years, and if it’s more than two seasons, it means Utley is healthy and likely producing at a high enough level that the vesting option shouldn’t be a problem. The money itself isn’t a problem, either. Its fair market value for a guy who is still producing. There’s certainly worry that he won’t be able to stay healthy, but there is a way to keep everyone happy. Use Cesar Hernandez as a super utility guy that can give Utley and other infielders a breather if need be. And in two years, Hernandez will be 25, still under team control, and ready to be the guy. For now, Utley remains the guy at 2B and the face of the franchise. And there’s nothing wrong with that.