As a writer for a website devoted to all things Phillies related, no topic concerning the boys in the red pinstripes makes me happier than anything concerning Chase Utley. For more evidence on that, take note that this will be my second consecutive week writing about the Phillies second baseman. Last week, I discussed Chase’s well documented propensity for finding his way to the disabled list, but more importantly, his ability to bounce back at the plate, and in the field, every time he returned from the DL.
Oh, what a difference a week makes. After a mediocre series against the New York Mets at home, Chase roared back with a passion, smacking 12 hits, 4 home runs, scoring 11 runs, and totaling a whopping 1.337 OPS in 7 games on the road in San Diego and Los Angeles. Neither park, Petco nor Dodger Stadium is known for providing hitters with any extra assistance, but Utley, unlike fellow infielder Ryan Howard, managed to eek out some offense.
Given Utley’s return to his positive hitting ways and the beginning of the month of July, this piece of news almost immediately popped up everywhere. Ruben Amaro has begun sending out flares, a bit of a warning shot, concerning the possibility that at the end of the month, when the trade deadline comes, he may trade Chase Utley. Mediocre teams that hover around the .500 like the 2012 and 2013 Phillies come under lots of speculation as to whether they will become buyers or sellers. Last season Ruben Amaro and the Phillies front office seemingly begrudgingly traded outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers and Giants respectively. Neither player returned the type of prospect that the Mets where able to get by moving Carlos Beltran at the deadline, but when adding to a farm system an organization needs both high-end prospects and general depth.
The current Phillies come into July with a 39-44 record, and last year’s version finished June with a 36-44 record. Unless this year’s team finds both the fountain of youth and the next biogenesis experience simultaneously, the playoffs, let alone a winning record, probably aren’t in the Phillies’ future. Their situation implies becoming sellers, and fortunately the Phillies have the type of team that lends itself to garnering a nice haul at the deadline. The Phillies have a number of veterans, some with expiring contracts, and others with more expensive ones. Still, those veterans remain talented, and when it comes to the deadline, buyers look for experience and talent, often neglecting other aspects of the equation to gain more of each.
The first name thrown around was Jonathan Papelbon, who’s name popped onto the scene due to the constant desire for
bullpen upgrades as well as his early season dominance. Since then Papelbon has blown a few saves, but as the deadline approaches the fire under his name will increase. Now, it seems, Chase Utley has become the Phillie with an expiration date attached to him. John Stolnis discusses other possible options for Utley here, but let’s focus on the upcoming deadline for the moment. Both Papelbon and Utley have no-trade clauses attached to their contracts, and according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Utley’s clause states:
“Each of those players submits a list of eight teams each year to which he would accept a trade, the source said. The players can block deals to the other 21.”
So, Utley has already submitted a list of teams, and the Phillies, unless they can convince Chase otherwise, have to find Utley a new home using only that list of 8 teams. Most likely, Chase put would-be contenders and some west coast teams on that list of 8, meaning that the Phillies might be able to work with said list.
In a piece on Philly.com, David Murphy makes the case that trading Utley now would be a soft landing for both Chase and the Phillies. Utley’s current contract expires at the end fo the season, placing him in the free agent waters, where, given his productive season Chase could command some attention on the free market, even with his injury history. Murphy ponders whether the most likely landing spot for Utley could be an AL squad, allowing Chase to DH for some of the time to keep him spry and healthy. Stepping aside from the details for s second, Murphy makes a poignant statement concerning the possibility of moving Utley at the deadline.
“When you really think about it, trading Utley would allow for a more ceremonious exit than would be allowed if he played out the final 2 months of his contract and became a free agent. It would allow the Phillies to acknowledge him in a way that will be impossible if he ends up signing with any of a number of teams that make more sense for him personally than the one that drafted him out of UCLA 13 years ago.”
Chase Utley isn’t the king of Philadelphia anymore, but he has emeritus status as one of the great players who brought baseball back to the forefront of Philadelphia sports. Utley embodies the Philadelphia fans spirit, and seeing him go may not please many, and will sadden most (this writer included), but this may be the final manner in which Utley pays the Phillies back for recognizing, cultivating, and allowing him to flourish.
All that being said, with the trade deadline one month from now, what could the Phillies expect in return, and who might become Utley’s most prominent suitors? Looking purely at how productive team’s have been at the second base position, the teams that pop up include the Dodgers, Royals, Blue Jays, A’s, and Orioles.
The Blue Jays made a big push last offseason, trying to take their chance at winning the AL East or at the very least making the playoffs, by swapping prospects for most of the veteran talent on the Miami Marlins. To top it off, the Jays went after R.A. Dickey, but thus far the season has been a tale of two teams. For the first 2 months the Jays looked like they had gotten worse, but recently the pitching has improved, and last week Jose Reyes returned from the DL. If the Jays continue their recent winning ways, come the deadline, they may decide to take one last swing and upgrade at their lowliest position, second base.
Were the Blue Jays set on acquiring Utley two possible deals come to mind. A chase Utley for Sean Nolin 1-for-1 deal could work. Nolin has spent the season in double-A, and projects to be a #3 starter in the future. He isn’t far from MLB ready status, and although his ceiling isn’t incredibly high, he has a high floor, something the Phillies could get behind. Another might involve some of the Jays high-ceiling young pitchers like Chase Dejong and Daniel Norris, two pitchers with nice upsides.
Moving down the list, the Royals come up as the next possibility. Kansas City, like Toronto, made a push this past winter, trading top prospect Wil Myers and others to the Rays for James Shields in the hopes that he might become their savior. Dayton Moore probably won’t make it to next year as the top man in the Royals front office, so he may go for the gold and make a push to improve the one position in Kansas City that has been dreadful this season. This seems like a nice fit, but remember that if KC isn’t one of Utley’s 8 pre-approved teams, it may be difficult to move him to the Royals.
If Utley approved such a deal, the Phillies have some nice options to choose from, as Kansas City, despite shipping off Wil Myers and Jake Oddizzi, has a fairly well-stocked farm system. I recently heard from a scout who saw Royals single-A pitcher Miguel Almonte described the viewing experience by saying, “Really liked Miguel Almonte’s stuff…Almonte three potential plus pitches.” Almonte is young, but pre-season Baseball Prospectus scout-guru Jason parks put his ceiling at a number 2 starter. Two other names to consider are Yordano Ventura, and if the Phillies truly believe in a project that could prove very fruitful, they should mention Bubba Starling’s name who the same scout described as, “Starling I’m mixed on. He’s not a total lost cause, but needs a lot of work.”
The Dodgers and A’s may prove to be the most likely destinations for Utley as he has numerous California ties, including a home near San Francisco and playing time at UCLA. The Dodgers seem willing to do whatever it takes to improve, and given the weak nature of the NL West, replacing the combination of Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto. Ned Colletti made a deal with Ruben Amaro last summer for Shane Victorino, so the two are well versed in the art of negotiation with each other.
While the Dodgers’ farm system lacks pizzaz, the Phillies could easily find some suitable pickings from the litter. Zach Lee, ranked by BP’s Jason Parks as LA’s #2 prospect behing Yasiel Puig, might not sparkle with potential or current viability, but like the Blue Jays Sean Nolin, he could become a mainstay in the Phillies rotation beginning in the middle of 2014 and for certain in 2015. After Lee another possible package in exchange for Utley could include young infielder Alex Santana and Onelki Garcia. Santana is a project, but he could become lightning in a bottle, while Garcia could be a nice addition to the bullpen in 2014, after being passed over for the Dodgers’ current bullpen future by Chris Withrow and Jose Rodriguez.
Dave Cameron made a strong case for the A’s making a move for Chase Utley in a piece from last week. The deal would make some sense for the A’s in that they haven’t settled on a solid candidate at second base, but they haven’t lacked hitting from their second basemen but the defense has merely hovered around average. There is no doubt that Oakland will be in a dogfight with Texas for the AL West, and adding a proven and talented player like Utley could seriously assist them in a playoff push.
A straight up Utley for Michael Choice would work for the Phillies, but also a combined package of Raul Alcantara and Miles Head might also be worthy of Chase’s productivity for a few months. Still, after discussing the possibility of an Utley to Oakland deal with my colleagues at That Balls Outta Here we determined that the Phillies should remain quite wary concerning a deal with the likes of Billy Beane, as there’s a high probability that the Phillies could get fleeced by the progressive thinking Beane and his cadre of worker bees.
The final team on the list, the Baltimore Orioles also have a need for a better second baseman, but whether or not Utley named the O’s as a possible landing spot seems unlikely. Still, Baltimore could legitimately win the AL East this season and were the Orioles to acquire a talent like Utley to add to Machado, Davis, Weiters, and Markakis, it could put them not only at the top of the AL East come season’s end, but would significantly improve their chances of running the tables towards the AL Pennant as well.
The Orioles system was quite top heavy prior to 2013, and with promotions to Gausman and Machado, it leaves only James
Andrews’ recent patient Dylan Bundy as the true top talent. Below Bundy, the Orioles have less to offer, and if the Phillies truly want something tangible in return, they might want to try and package Cliff Lee and Chase Utley in one deal and eek back Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, and Nick Delmonico in return, or some similar looking package, it might be worth the haggling for both sides.
The wildcard team that remains unnamed is the New York Yankees. The Yankees do not need a second baseman, but they could use serious help at first base given the recent season ending injury to Mark Texiera and the lack of production from fill-in Lyle Overbay. The Yankees have been on a cost-cutting binge lately, so I doubt combining Lee and Utley in a deal to the Yankees would work. Michael Young might be another Phillies infielder the Yankees could look at, but Utley would provide better defense, a greater willingness to play first and DH, while providing more overall production from the plate. An Utley for Jose Campos swap would work for both sides, as Campos has a ways to go, but presents with tools to provide high-end rotational stuff.
Chase Utley has served the Phillies with distinction, helping the team win the franchise’s second World Series, and while moving him at the deadline might have seemed demeaning or ungrateful before, it seems humane now. Utley’s impending free agency makes this any deal worthwhile for both sides, the question remains whether Ruben Amaro can live up to his most recent words:
“My job, however, is to make sure the viability of the organization is the most important element. Even though he might be the most popular player, if there are things we have to do with some of these popular players that are going to make our club better, then we have to keep our minds open.”
Chase Utley could very well remain the Phillies 2B until he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, but Ruben Amaro finds himself in a position to get a return for Utley without insulting or disgracing anyone’s image or reputation.