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Trying to Pin Down a Possible Chase Utley Trade Return

Chase Utley - Philadelphia PhilliesYesterday, Jim Salisbury noted that the Yankees had scouts at the Phillies games over the weekend. Salisbury confirmed that the Yankees have discussed trading for Carlos Ruiz internally, but also speculated that the Yankees may be interested in Michael Young and Chase Utley as well. Today, we’ll begin our series of finding comparable trade returns for some of the players the Phillies may look to deal at the deadline.

The Backdrop

Chase Utley is a 34-year old second basemen who, from 2005-2009, was the best second baseman in baseball according to fWAR by over 15 wins. He is coming off knee injuries that limited him to 511, 454, and 362 PA in the last three seasons. In limited time, Utley has been among the upper tier of second basemen.  Despite his injuries, and being between 450 to 700 PA short of those in front of him, Utley has been the sixth-most productive second baseman in all of baseball from 2010-2012. This year, Utley has battled ribcage and oblique injuries but has remained firmly in the second-tier of second basemen for 2013, joining a group that includes Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist, hitting .268/.335/.469 with 8 HR and 6 SB.

Comparable Players

Through age 34, Utley compares to Joe Gordon, Jeff Kent, and Vinny Castilla, according to Baseball Reference. Gordon was traded before his age 32 season in exchange for Allie Reynolds, who was already established as a fine Major League pitcher. Kent and Castilla were both free agents around their age 34 seasons and were not traded. No luck there.

There have been recent deals, however, that provide a bit of a framework for what the Phillies may look for.

Take for example the 2008 trade deadline deal of Casey Blake to the Dodgers for Carlos Santana. Blake, a late bloomer, put up 11.9 fWAR in the five seasons leading up to 2008 – Utley has put up quite a bit more (28.1) over the last five seasons but is seen with injury concerns and a downward slope. Blake netted Santana and Jon Meloan. Santana was 22 and in the midst of hitting .323/.431/.563 in a breakout minor league campaign that put him on the map and landed him at the #26 spot on the 2009 Baseball America preseason Top Prospects list and then #10 on the 2010 Baseball America preseason Top Prospects list.

Another comparable is the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for Zack Wheeler. Beltran, like Utley, was in his age 34 season, and like Utley, was in the last year of his contract. Beltran was in the middle of a bounce-back type season where he was hitting .289/.391/.513 with 15 HR for the Mets before being traded.  Wheeler was ranked #55 by Baseball America headed into the 2011 season. Wheeler, of course, is now just 23 and pitching for the Mets with 8 Ks in 11.1 IP so far and was the preseason #11 Baseball America prospect. Not too bad.

Picking a Trade Target

There have been a handful of teams loosely linked to the Chase Utley sweepstakes. But before getting into that, let’s define what the Phillies should reasonably expect and target in this process. In the two most recent, comparable deals, one team acquired a piping hot 22-year old catcher who may have been a bit old for his level and the other, a noted prospect with seemingly no place to fit long term in a rotation that was stacked with talent. Is there anybody out there who fits that description from the teams most likely to pursue Utley?

Let’s begin first with the Yankees. The Yankees do not have an immediate need at second base but Utley could fill in at first for Mark Texeira, who is now out for the season, or be used as their DH.

The Yankees have Mason Williams (#31), Gary Sanchez (#57), Slade Heathcott (#63), and Tyler Austin (#77).  Williams, 21, is a speedy outfield who gets all of the power he can out of his 6’0″, 160 lbs frame. After handling the promotion from Charleston (A) to Tampa (A+) well last year, Williams is repeating Tampa but has not had breakout success. Sanchez, 20, is a catcher from the Dominican Republic who has 12 HR in 278 PA in Tampa. Sanchez’s stock is rising and may be promoted to Trenton this year. Heathcott, 22, has not made the jump from Tampa to Trenton successfully – one of his best tools, speed, has failed him, completing only 7 out of 13 SB attempts safely. He is hitting just .237 and has struck out in nearly a third of his PA. Finally, Austin, 21, is a 6’1″, 220 lbs outfielder who is making short order of Double-A Trenton this year. After a double jump last season, Austin is hitting .275/.367/.397 with 5 HR.

Do the Yankees have any sleepers? Jose Ramirez, 23, has used smoke and mirrors to advance to Triple-A, compiling a 2.76 ERA that translates to a 4.26 FIP in Double-A to earn his promotion. While his 95 MPH four-seamer is tempting, I would avoid Ramirez. If the Phillies and Yankees engaged in a deal for Utley, I would ask for Sanchez but settle for Austin and a PTBNL.

The Orioles are another team that may fit the bill. Brian Roberts is completing a rehab assignment but in the meantime, the O’s have been using a heavy helping of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. The Orioles pantry has been wiped dry of top prospects in recent years as they have reached the Majors but there are a few names to watch out for. Infielder Jonathan Schoop, 21, has been limited to just 34 games for Triple-A Norfolk this year but is on the path (.268/.331/.386, 3 HR) to bouncing back from a rough year at the plate last year. Schoop primarily plays second base but has also seen time at shortstop. Would they sacrifice the heir apparent to second base to acquire a top tier second baseman right now? Schoop is, of course, blocked at the Major League level at both second and shortstop by Roberts and J.J. Hardy but with Roberts’ health remaining a giant question mark, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Orioles hopped in the Utley sweepstakes as well. Discussions with the Orioles should start and end with Schoop’s inclusion.

Finally, the Toronto Blue Jays, suddenly just 3.5 games out of the Wild Card, find themselves with the 29th-worst production from second base in the Major Leagues. The Jays have gone from sure sellers to possible cautious buyers. The Jays have ran out Emilio Bonafacio, Mark DeRosa, and Macier Izturis to second this year for a combined -1.9 WAR, or a .220/.265/.345 line. Like the Orioles, the Jays are pretty bare in the top prospects department but Aaron Sanchez is a name I really like. Sanchez was ranked #65 in Baseball America’s preseason rankings and turns just 21 on July 1. Sanchez is a 6’4″ lefty with a plus-plus fastball and has a 2.96 ERA in 45.2 IP in High-A Dunedin.

The Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays are three teams who will likely be in the thick of the Chase Utley trade sweepstakes. The Phillies, if they play their cards right, could end up with a very nice young player, but should not trade Utley just to trade him. With good health and it being the final year of his contract, Utley could net a Top-100 type prospect.


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