Well, if you were to sum up the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies season so far, the words ‘poor’, ‘exhausting’ and ‘hopeless’ would spring to mind. Such is the nature of the decline of one of baseball’s biggest franchises, and such is the sorry state of affairs Ryne Sandberg has inherited at Citizens Bank Park.
The disappointing start off the back of an under-par 2013 season has fuelled some fans’ arguments that the Phillies need to freshen up and build for the future, as the ageing core of veterans such as Utley, Howard, Lee, Rollins and co. fails to provide adequate insurance of competitive baseball in the future.
It’s a really tough situation, as those of a lesser knowledge may be outraged to see star players such as Utley shipped out for young no-namers in the world of baseball. Fan interest would likely decline, and Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to decide definitively which direction the team is headed.
One of the possible options, again likely an unpopular decision amongst fans, would be to trade the 35-year-old second baseman Chase Utley. It’s fair to say that in his time in Philadelphia, Chase has won over the fans by being one of the most consistent and reliable players, as well as being a key part of the 2008 World Series winning team and helping form one of the greatest defensive combinations in the form of Rollins-Utley-Howard.
It has been an illustrious career for Utley, with (at the time of writing) 5295 Major League at-bats under his belt over 1421 career games. With 2609 total bases, 323 doubles and 45 triples in his career, it is clear to see how Utley’s offensive game is one of the most polished and developed in the Majors. In his entire MLB career he is hitting an average of .287, and whilst I write this his current mark for the season is above that at .288, reinforcing and emphasising how consistent Utley is.
One of the strongest departments of Utley’s game, and something a trade would leave a huge hole in, is his on base percentage (OBP). This season , Chase has a .346 OBP, slightly below his career average of .371, but still second out of Phillies players with more than 40 at-bats (behind Carlos Ruiz). He also leads the Phillies in season hits with 111, as well as doubles (25), and his 48 RBIs once again demonstrate how important Utley has been, despite the Phils’ struggles this season.
So, with all that being said, it’s clear to see how Utley would likely net the largest prospect package of any trade (the Phillies would rather build around Hamels than trade him, it seems), and although Amaro Jr. would likely place a high price on the star second baseman, it would still be wise to engage in trade negotiations just in case the right offer comes along. Lots of contending teams with deep farm systems, such as the Giants and Blue Jays who are apparently interested, will be looking for that key offensive catalyst producer to bolster the line-up and add much needed experience for a long playoff run.
Surely it would have to be a very lucrative prospect package for Amaro Jr. to even consider trading the coveted Utley. It may be a shock to the system, but if the right deal comes along it may be for the good of the team in the future. Chase can of course exercise his 10-5 rights (ten years Major League service and five with his current team), something which he indicated he would do.
“I haven’t ever envisioned leaving Philadelphia. I feel like I’m wanted in Philly” the All-Star Utley said, “I don’t plan on going anywhere, but if someone comes up to me and says you’re no longer wanted in Philly, then I’ll have to change my tune.”
These are humbling and honest words from one of Philly’s favourite sons. I personally don’t feel he will ever be told he is no longer wanted in Philadelphia, but a potential trade may achieve that affect and may leave a sour taste for Utley, which should be avoided at all costs.
So what exactly could the Phils be looking at in return for Utley? Well, if we look at the two teams mentioned in Toronto and San Francisco, both have prospects that Amaro Jr. may see value in acquiring.
The Cubs and Athletics trade has helped the Phillies in the market in many ways, with the tone being set for competitive teams to trade future prospects in order to be better now, or at least that was the precedent Billy Beane set down in California. That makes a potential approach from the Giants or Jays more realistic and expected, but what do they have to give for the coveted Utley?
Well, from Toronto, there is a list of prospects I feel the Phillies could realistically acquire. Obviously, top of that list would be RHP Aaron Sanchez. In all honesty, Sanchez didn’t really impress with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, giving up 16 runs in 17 games in 33.1 innings, including 17 walks. However, on Wednesday night he threw a 1-2-3 inning on 11 pitches, retiring Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli to preserve a 5-4 lead. With a mid-90s fastball and lots of movement on strikeout pitches, Sanchez has the potential to be a top end starter in years to come. Toronto would likely be reluctant to give up their top prospect, but if Amaro Jr. is clever then he will certainly include him in preliminary negotiations.
Another pitcher from the Blue Jays’ system is Daniel Norris, a lefty pitcher in AA New Hampshire. With an arsenal including three good pitches and fantastic control, Norris is on the rise and appeared in the 2014 Futures Game as an indicator of his success. Over 86.1 IP in A+/AAA, he has posted a 7-1 record with a 2.61 ERA and just 27 walks compared to 106 Ks.
Catcher A.J. Jimenez of Buffalo is another potential target for the Phils, having impressed with a .257 average, a .297 OBP and 30 RBIs over 269 at-bats in Buffalo. Again, Jimenez will likely be tough to acquire given the catcher situation in Toronto, but he is the calibre of player that should be considered.
Also of New Hampshire is outfielder Dalton Pompey, a player who has had a tremendous 2014 season thus far sending him sailing up the prospect rankings. Besides having an awesome name, Pompey has great speed, hitting and athleticism, key qualities of a top outfielder, and through 93 games at A+/AAA Dalton has a .304 average with a .382 OBP, 35 steals, 44 walks and 42 RBIs. Given the Phillies could use an outfield prospect, this would be a welcome addition.
To cover all bases, the top infield prospect in my opinion on the Jays is Mitch Nay, of the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. Likely two or more seasons away from the MLB, Nay has impressed in A with. .276 average over 369 at-bats, including a .337 OBP and 47 RBIs.
The likelihood of getting a package of those prospects is dependent on who exactly is in the discussion, however if I was the Phillies GM I would certainly pursue Nay, Pompey and Norris, as the most acquirable prospects with the most realistic value and great promise.
San Francisco offers similar trade possibilities, with a stacked farm system assured to give them possible success in years to come.
First on my list would be the hugely acclaimed and promising RHP Kyle Crick of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA). Gifted with a mid to late 90s fastball and great breaking pitches, including a biting slider, Crick has posted a 6-4 record so far this season in Richmond, with a 3.21 ERA and 87 Ks over 75.2 IP and 17 games.
Left-handers Edwin Escobar and Adalberto Mejia deserve mention as serious trade candidates, but Escobar has really struggled at AAA level, going 3-8 in 19 starts with an ERA over 5. Mejia has also found the season tough so far, with 16 starts yielding a 5-6 record and 5.52 ERA at Double-A Richmond. Both have great futures ahead of them, and it may be wise to include them in a deal whole trade value may not be at the highest point.
When it comes to a replacement infielder, the Phillies must not Panik (excuse the ridiculous pun). Instead they should try and work out a trade for Joe Panik, who has played 20 games for the Giants this season at second base, to begin his MLB career. In 410 Minors games Panik hit .296 with a .365 OBP and a .403 slugging percentage. So far in the MLB, the young second baseman has hit .210 with a .265 OBP over 62 ABs. He may need some more time to develop, but Joe Panik seems like the most obvious trade option, especially with him being a straight replacement for Utley.
Catcher Andrew Susac is a possible acquisition, having hit .264 over 208 at-bats and 62 games in Triple-A Fresno so far in 2014, and with a fantastic arm and sublime athleticism, the Giants value him highly.
Shortstop Christian Arroyo of A-Short Salem-Kaizer is a hot infield prospect in the Giants system, hitting .261 this season in 241 at-bats. Arroyo is likely years away from the MLB however, but an eye should be kept on his performance, especially with the Phils’ SS situation.
Last on the list for San Francisco is Mac Williamson, an outfielder hitting .318 in 85 at-bats for San Jose. Fitness has been an issue for him, being currently on the DL and limited to 23 games, but the .420 OBP he has posted has certainly turned heads. In addition to crushing power, Williamson possesses above average speed, with a strong arm and good fielding profile.
To summarise, the Phillies should definitely be looking at a package deal from SF consisting of perhaps two lf Crick, Susac, Panik and possibly Williamson. Those is exactly the kind of players Amaro Jr. should be pursuing in order to made this a fair and rewarding deal.
Overall, it is clear to see that trading Utley would be tough but potentially the correct thing for the future. The trade market has really opened up, meaning potential suitors will be more aggressive, and the two aforementioned interested parties in Toronto and San Francisco have lots to offer.
The Phillies have leverage in trade negotiations due to Utley’s contract, in which he’s due $10million next year with vesting options if he doesn’t hit or gets hurt. If he plays lots of games, maintains productivity and stays healthy he will still only get $15million, so the Phillies can see the contract as a lucrative aspect of the negotiation.
It’s up to Ruben to play this correctly, and if the right deal doesn’t present itself then it seems wise to hold on. After all, he expects competitive baseball in 2015 which Chase could be an integral part of. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the situation develops, providing a pocket of excitement in an otherwise mundane season for Philadelphia.