I don’t like this, it’s stupid, and makes me feel hollow inside. However, there have been rumors indicating that West Coast teams want to fill their 2nd base black hole with a Chase Utley-shaped player.
Utley, listed by Joel Sherman as the best bat available on the trade market, has reportedly been garnering interest from several teams in need of assistance, including the Dodgers, Athletics, and Giants.
While the Athletics are unwilling to move top prospect Addison Russell in any trade, both the Giants and Dodgers have the prospect depth to foster a deal, were the Phillies willing to talk. Between the three teams, only the Dodger’s Dee Gordon has hit at a league average level (.728 OPS), but even he has declined steadily after his hot start.
Peter Gammons recently reported a GM’s belief that “… the National League would be decided by whether the Dodgers or the Giants got Chase Utley.” Regardless of the Phillies’ actual interest or ability to make a move, teams are going to call with interest in the franchise second baseman.
As sad as it makes me, the argument for moving Utley this trade deadline is relatively obvious. The Phillies need to rebuild, and with Cliff Lee currently on the shelf, Chase seemingly has the most immediate value to teams. There’s a fair amount of need across the league, including on teams with deeper pools of minor league talent.
The Dodgers had an eventual 2nd base replacement for Dee Gordon in the pipeline, in recent Cuban-signee Alex Guerrero. He has hit .376/.417/.735 with 10 HR in only 33 games at Triple-A. He’s also a high salary player, earning $18 million guaranteed over the next four seasons – he’s the logical choice.
The problem? He’s still recovering from having his ear eaten off by former teammate Miguel Olivo, if you hadn’t heard. The Giants have been trotting out a combination of Brandon Hicks, Joaquin Arias, and Ehire Adrianza – none of whom have managed to reach the Mendoza line this season.
Their best in-house option? 2011 first-round pick Joe Panik, who’s sitting in Triple-A with a strong .322/.381/.442 line, and a good 23/31 BB/K ratio. His problem is playing in the Pacific Coast League, where his inflated numbers there are unlikely to smoothly transition to the majors.
What might we see in a trade to either of the NL West powerhouses?
The Dodgers have more elite upside prospects in their system – however, it would be unwise to get too excited about them for anything short of a healthy Cliff Lee plus a lot of eaten salary. Joc Pederson is the obvious, reachable treasure in a big trade. The young OF has seemingly no place to play in Los Angeles, where four high-priced, un-moveable (or won’t move-able, in Yasiel Puig‘s case) players are under contract for at least three more seasons each.
He’s also been mashing in the PCL, hitting .325/.436/.603 with 16 HR, 15 SB, and solid defense to boot. He’s a more highly regarded prospect, and major league ready. Getting him might entail including Carlos Ruiz, or a Jake Diekman-type young, controllable, high velocity reliever. A couple more minor leaguers would likely come over with him, but would be of a much lower ceiling, and likely much less developed. If not Pederson, look for high-minors pitching to headline a potential deal.
In a potential trade with the Giants, look for a pitching prospect to be the headliner. Kyle Crick is the darling of the system, and while he’s unrealistic to expect in a deal for Utley, I don’t think the Phillies consider a trade without him.
Another interesting piece is Andrew Susac, the team’s top catching prospect with a .925 OPS, again in the PCL. While his numbers are inflated, he has offensive value and Buster Posey/Brandon Belt look to block him at C/1B for years to come, leaving him with no immediate home on the diamond.
Finally, the previously mentioned Panik would make an interesting second or third piece in a trade, as the Phillies might like to have someone to fill the created second base void, and he’s a youthful prospect along with it.
While these scenarios are all rational, sane moves that potentially fill multiple voids with one massive loss, none of them make me happy. Were Utley just a recently signed free agent to the Phillies, I make either trade every day. The problem is, Chase Utley is the face of the franchise, and is still productive with four remaining years of team control on his new contract.
Four years of Chase Utley, with his consistent productivity and financial value as a marquee player, offers more value to the Phillies than six years of a couple prospects. Unless the Dodgers break the bank and offer Pederson AND Corey Seager/Julio Urias (which will NOT happen), I move everyone I can except Utley.
As far as the Phillies are concerned, they appear to be in lock step with me on this one. They are reported to have no interest in moving Utley, he has 10-5 no-trade rights, and wants to stay in Philadelphia. Like Jimmy Rollins, he can veto any proposed trade.
As irrational as it is, I’m ok with that.