The Competitiveness of Chase Utley


It appears that despite showing that he has some good baseball left in the tank since coming off the disabled list, Chase Utley would rather finish the 2015 season with the last place Phillies than play meaningful baseball for a contending team.

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For Utley, these final six weeks are quite meaningful for a veteran who wants to be given a chance to play everyday in 2016. It likely won’t happen in Philadelphia, as Cesar Hernandez has likely played himself to be the Phillies’ 2016 opening day second baseman, but it could happen on a team that recognizes Utley’s potential—even at 36-years-old.

As CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury pointed out before Tuesday’s game, Maikel Franco’s potentially season-ending wrist injury could guarantee Utley the playing time he desires—something he wanted assurance of in any potential trade.

Originally it was believed that keeping Utley would inhibit Hernandez’s development as an everyday player. However, now that Franco is injured, a void in the Phillies’ infield has opened up in the form of third base—a position that Hernandez is certainly capable of playing on an everyday basis for the rest of the season.

It was seen over the weekend and in Tuesday’s game, as Hernandez played third base for every game besides Sunday’s series finale in Milwaukee. Defensively, Hernandez’s slick glove at second has seemed to translate to the hot corner. He misplayed a hard-hit grounder in Tuesday’s series opener against the Jays, but flashed the leather on a Franco-esque play as he charged in on a bunt to get the out at first base.

With Franco out, both Hernandez and Utley can get everyday at-bats. The 25-year-old will develop, and the 36-year-old can showcase his remaining talents.

For Utley, staying in Philadelphia might be in his best interest. He has certainly come back strong from his ankle injury, batting .484 (15-31) with a 1.227 OPS in eight games since coming off the disabled list, but it appears he doesn’t want to sacrifice playing time for winning.

Several teams have reportedly made offers for Utley, but no deal has manifested in large part because of the 36-year-old’s 10-and-5 no trade rights, which allow him to veto any trade. There is a notion that Utley is in no rush to leave the team that drafted him.  General manager told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t think “Chase has that desire to leave, frankly and the Phillies don’t have the desire to move him out of here.”

Utley is, and has always been a competitor, and it’s this belief that people use to justify why they believe he would want to compete for World Series championship with a contending team.

However, Utley already owns a World Series ring. While he’s undoubtedly competitive, perhaps the idea of earning a ring, but not playing everyday would instill the feeling that he did not actually “earn” anything—that he was just riding the wave of younger talent that surrounded him to baseball’s promise land.

Utley is no spokesman. He is not a verbal leader. He leads by example, and sitting the bench on a good team does not quite cater to his strengths. When it’s all said and done, Utley would rather play everyday on a bad team than be a minor contributor on a World Series contender.

Players seldom begin and finish their careers with one team. After 14 seasons with the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins, also at age 36, moved on to Los Angeles to play on a Dodgers team will compete for a World Series Championship come October. Rollins, however, has been the team’s primary shortstop, playing 114 games this season. Utley would likely not have the same opportunity if he were to leave, but if he keeps hitting like he’s been, a team would be liable to give him a fair opportunity.

But when Utley signed a two-year contract extension back in Aug. 2013, the thinking was that he would finish his career in Philadelphia. He also believed that the club would get back to its winning ways sooner rather than later.

I wanted to know where we’re at,” Utley said back in 2013 after signing the extension. “[Amaro] laid it out for me. He said we want to win. We’re going to do what we need to do to win. Like I said, I’ve known Ruben for a long time. We have a good relationship. We trust each other. With that said, I wasn’t uncomfortable.”

The winning sure hasn’t happened, as the Phillies finished in last place in 2014 and are on pace for another last place finish this season. While Amaro’s promise of winning hasn’t come to fruition, perhaps in Utley’s mind, being a professional ballplayer is more than winning, or even money.

Maybe I left a little bit of money on the table with this deal. But it’s not about the money, It’s about the commitment,” Utley said in 2013. “There is no better place to play than here.”

Two years later, it appears that Utley’s stance hasn’t shifted despite the team’s losing.  If he truly wanted to leave, chances are that he would’ve left by now. Is it crazy to think that, after some negotiating, the Phillies would keep Utley aboard in 2016 if that’s what he truly wants?

He is a franchise icon, and is one of the few beloved Philadelphia athletes to play in the city over the last decade. He has performed for this organization at an almost Hall of Fame-level while leaving his heart and soul on the field night in and night out.

Despite these facts, the Phillies will likely move on from Utley after this season. There are promising young players on this team, and next year will be another crucial season in regards to their development. If the Phillies believe that Hernandez is the future at age 25, then Utley can’t be here.

If Utley takes advantage of this opportunity to play everyday and continues to prove that he can still get it done at the plate, then he will take his competitive nature to a new home outside of Philadelphia.

For now, though, he is here and he is playing well.