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Utley or Cano?

Thursday, Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley responded to a quote from an article at Beyond the Box Score comparing Chase Utley and Robinson Cano, two of baseball’s elite second basemen. The BtB article’s conclusion straddled the fence rather nicely.

Robinson Cano is a very good player. Chase Utley is a very good player. If you want the second-baseman who will put the ball in play more and make flashier looking plays with the glove, then you take Cano. If you want the second-baseman who will make fewer outs and save more runs defensively, then you take Utley.

If Utley doesn’t bounce back at the plate – while Cano maintains his production from 2010 – then we’ll need to revisit this and perhaps give the Yankee the edge. If someone wants to take up the banner for Cano right now though, I’d be glad to hear the arguments.

And Mr. Baer’s conclusion rings out resoundingly in favor of the Philly.

Right now, I take Utley without hesitation. Last year in what was a career year for Cano, he was worth 6.4 fWAR. Utley, in a career-worst year, was worth 5.2. Utley at his worst is still very close to Cano at his best — that’s just how good Utley is.

Advanced metrics favor Utley by a fair margin, especially when defense is factored in. Cano has built a reputation of making plays with a splash, flashing a strong arm or quick pivot. Utley, meanwhile, has recently been maligned for a couple of poorly timed playoff errors, but has been about as reliable a second baseman as you could find in the game today.

Really, this is a comparison of two different styles. Cano is a contact specialist with improving power, while Utley is a disciplined hitter with established (some may say declining) four-corner power.

Both players have contracts that could run as long as through the 2013 season. Here’s how they break down.

  • Cano: $10M in 2011, $14M in 2012 (club option), $15M in 2013 (club option)
  • Utley: $15M in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (all guaranteed, with partial no-trade and award incentives)

The biggest edge Cano has is that he’s about four years younger than Utley, so if asked which second baseman they would prefer to start a franchise with, I’m sure plenty of executives would pick Cano. Given his age and combined $6M in savings over Utley through their concurrent contract years, there’s probably enough there to sway votes.

But for one year – namely, 2011 – who would you rather have? Would you rather have Cano’s contact, and hope his power makes up for his lack of elite on-base skills, or Utley’s eye and defense, banking on a rebound from an injury-shortened 2010?

Given this is a Phillies blog, I expect the answers to lean a certain way. All the same, who’s your pick?

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