I’m not trying to be a bucket of cold water here, because I love Chase Utley as much as you do. But in discussing Utley’s reported two-year, $27 million contract extension with vesting options (reports courtesy of CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman and Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal), it’s important to look beyond Utley’s name and look toward what keeping for another two years, possibly more, really means.
Utley’s extension means more eyes will continue to watch this baseball team. It’s always a wonderful thing when one of the best players the franchise has ever seen agrees to take what is certainly a below-market discount to stay with the franchise that drafted him.
Even beyond the sentimentality though, signing Utley to a deal that will keep him in red pinstripes through at least 2015 appears to be a good baseball move as well. He is still one of the best second basemen in the league, hitting .275/.336/.505 for an OPS of .841 with 15 HRs and 42 RBIs and has posted a bWAR this year of 2.9. That would put him second among all NL second basemen and sixth in all of baseball behind Matt Carpenter, Jason Kipnis, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ben Zobrist.
Right now, the typical free agent market is about $6 million per WAR. At $13.5 million a year over the next two years, Utley would need to be a 2-WAR player each year in order to justify that contract.
Yeah, I think he can do that.
And so far this year, his knees have held up. The month he missed earlier in the season was due to a freaky oblique strain, having nothing to do with his knees.
Everyone who loves the Phillies is psyched that Utley is sticking around for a couple more years at least. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and Utley makes baseball fun to watch. Not only that, the Phillies got a hometown discount to re-sign their second baseman, and who doesn’t love a discount?
But let’s face it. The Phillies have a lot of holes to fill on this roster. Some of those roles will hopefully be taken by some of the younger players who are currently with the team, like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche. Some of them will be filled by minor leaguers who are about a year away, like Maikel Franco, Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan. And some of those will come from free agency.
But signing Chase Utley to an extension did not make the Phillies any better today.
It did keep them from getting worse at a position where, outside of Cano, there were no free agents that would have been even half the player Utley is. And the team’s internal options (Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen) were apparently not good enough to keep the Phils from re-upping with their franchise player.
But the Phillies already are what they are WITH Chase Utley. Keeping him doesn’t make them a better team in 2014. It just keeps them from being worse at one particular position. Of course, it could also prevent them from getting better in right field, unless they decide to go with a starting outfield of Dom Brown, Ben Revere and Ruf. Which would, of course, be a dicey proposition.
And there is no doubt that this is also a sentimental move by the organization, and we’ve seen how some of those “sentimental” moves have worked out over the last few years (Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard). Utley also has degenerative problems in both his knees and will play the 2015 season at 36 years old.
Still, Utley’s signing is a reason to celebrate, even if it doesn’t necessarily make the team any better than it was 24 hours ago. It does assure them that they won’t be significantly worse at one position and allows the fans to continue to root for the most popular player in the history of the franchise.
And those are good things.