Phillies Stand Pat, But Where’s Utley Extension?


I know, Mike. We can’t quite believe you’re still here either. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that the Phillies did nothing at the trade deadline is not altogether that surprising or damning. That Ruben Amaro did not swing any deals and get rid of Michael Young, Jonathan Papelbon, Delmon Young, Carlos Ruiz, Cliff Lee or Chase Utley is not necessarily an indictment on him.

This year’s trade non-waiver trade deadline was one of the least newsworthy in MLB history. The biggest name to switch teams was Jake Peavy. No big name hitters changed teams, despite clubs like the Texas Rangers moving heaven and earth to try and acquire one.

With so many buyers in the market and so few sellers, prices were astronomically high, and teams are protecting their prospects like never before.

So what Amaro said to the media after the 4pm deadline came and went with everyone on the Phils still in their assigned seats is likely very true.

"“We talked about a couple of things late. I guess the bottom line was we didn’t find anything that was satisfactory. Nothing we thought was going to improve us. So we decided not to do anything.” – quote per Daily News’ Ryan Lawrence"

I wrote about this very thing last week, trying to explain why it was entirely possible Ruben Amaro would stand pat at the deadline. It doesn’t matter if a player is going to be a free agent at the end of the year or not. Unless it’s a salary dump, general managers don’t give away players, especially with the waiver trade deadline still to go in August.

Michael Young will almost certainly be claimed by the Yankees if he’s placed on waivers. The Phils would then have to work out a deal with New York or, failing an agreement, pull him back off waivers and either keep him or just give him away to the Yankees.

Jul 11, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) celebrates after pitching the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

No one wanted Papelbon. It’s as simple as that. You can’t trade an aging closer with diminishing stuff with a huge contract unless you’re trying to dump his salary. And the Phils were not looking to do that. Carlos Ruiz is playing terrible baseball. No one wanted him, either. And Amaro was absolutely right not to trade Lee without getting a bona fide star-in-the-making prospect in return.

Which brings us to Utley. Rumors are that Amaro had heavy interest in his second baseman, but decided early on he wasn’t going to trade the “Phillie for life” and refused to even listen to any offers.

This was dumb.

It was also rumored today that the two sides were working on an extension that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a two-year guaranteed contract at $13 million a year, with a vesting third year. It’s possible the deal could be for three years guaranteed.

However, unless Utley and his agent are simply being “nice guys” about the negotiations and have already told Amaro there was no pressure to get a deal done right away, Amaro lost almost all the leverage he had in negotiations by not agreeing to a deal before the trade deadline.

It makes no sense for this deal to be unfinished. What is Utley’s incentive to give Amaro a deal that will work for the franchise? Why wouldn’t Utley now test the market, knowing it’s highly unlikely he’ll be traded in August? Ruben has now run the very real risk that Utley could walk after the season is over. All the Phillies would be able to do is make a qualifying offer and get a first round draft pick (top 10 protected) if he refused the QO and signed with another team.

It’s a mystery to me why this isn’t being talked about more in the aftermath of the deadliest deadline day in recent memory.

It seems clear by the lack of activity throughout baseball that fans of many teams are also wondering why their general managers didn’t do something.

Why didn’t the Mets trade Marlon Byrd? Why didn’t Marlins trade any of their bullpen pieces? Why didn’t the Pirates go after a right fielder? Why didn’t Texas or St. Louis do more to put themselves over the top?

It also seems clear that, with the advent of the second wild card, the non-waiver deadline needs to be moved back to mid-August, say, August 15. There can still be a waiver deadline period for the rest of the month after that, ending on August 31.

Moving the date back would allow teams more time to decide whether they are buyers or sellers. It would allow teams more time to gauge exactly who they are and what they want to do.

If they don’t move it back, you could see blockbuster trades in baseball about as frequently as you do in football, which is to say, almost never.

As for the Phillies, let’s all remember that it takes two to tango. Certainly Amaro wanted to make some moves. He’s never been shy at the deadline. But he has to have a dance partner in order to that.

And it seems perfectly obvious that he wasn’t the only general manager standing in the corner of the ballroom sipping punch by himself.