Window Closed: Why the Phillies extension of Chase Utley is a mistake
At some point the Phillies front office needs to turn the page. At some point the Phillies fans need to stop saying the “window is closing” and realize the window is closed, and has been for some time now. At some point, every good thing needs to come to an end. While Chase Utley is arguably the face of the Phillies franchise, it doesn’t make much sense to sign a 34 year old aging veteran with bad knees to a contract extension.
Put your love for Utley aside. Ignore the fact that he’s been dazzling you with amazing plays for 11 years now, If I were to ask your opinion on an unnamed player, who hasn’t hit .280 in four years, hasn’t scored 100 runs in four years, and most importantly, hasn’t played in 130 games in four years, you’d think this guy is breaking down. If I then told you that the same player, just got a 2, possibly 3 year contract extension for $13.5 million per season you’d think the team that signed him made a mistake. If I then told you that the same team had a player in AAA who played the same position as the aging veteran and was performing well at that level, you’d think the GM of the team was a moron. And you’d be right.
Utley APPEARS to be healthy for the first time in a long time, but even so, he’s having a pretty average year. Utley is hitting just .275 with 15 HR, 42 RBI, 7 SB, and a .336 OBP. His .336 OBP are the lowest of his career since his rookie season in 2003. If you like advanced stats, his 2.9 WAR (wins above replacement) is the lowest of his career since 2004, and his 28 RAR (runs above replacement) are also the lowest of his career since 2004. This is going to shock you, but at the age of 34, even a healthy Chase Utley isnt what the superstar Chase Utley was. His game is dwindling and lord only knows where it will be by the time this contract extension expires.
His defense is also dwindling, and dwindling fast. His fielding % is a paltry .968 thanks to his 13 errors at second base. You may say his 13 errors are simply a result of more playing time because of his health but you’d be wrong. In 2011 Utley had 488 defensive chances at second and committed just 5 errors. This season Utley has had 409 chances. Ian Kinsler is a comparable player to Utley, and at 31 Kinsler is Texas’ DH this season, but unfortunately the Phillies don’t have the luxury of the DH and will have to watch Utley play a poor second base, or be moved to a corner outfield spot.
One of the main reasons the Phillies should’ve moved on for Utley is currently injured in AAA. Cesar Hernandez was the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs starting second basemen, until the Phillies started working out an extension with Utley. They then decided to move Hernandez to the outfield. Hernandez is out with a wrist injury, but his stat line is impressive. He’s hitting .310 with 2 HR, 31 RBI, and 29 SB. The 23 year old Hernandez has already had a cup of coffee with the Phillies earlier this season, and should’ve been the team’s starting second basemen next season. Even factoring in growing pains from Hernandez, his $480,000 is a lot cheaper than $13.5 million.
As I said at the beginning, the Phillies need to turn the page. While trading Utley would’ve been tough to do thanks impart to a no trade clause implanted because of the 10-5 rule (10 years in the league and 5 with the current team) the Phillies could’ve used Utley to help retool the system by offering him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
Thanks to the new CBA, Type A & B free agents are a thing of the past, and in their place are qualifying offers. A qualifying offer is a 1 year offer for the average of the top 125 player’s salaries from the previous year. This past offseason players offered a qualifying offer from their teams were offered a 1 year deal for $13.3 million. While there is always the chance that Utley would accept such an offer, as this seasons qualifying salary will likely be close to his accepted price of $13.5, he might be insulted by the qualifying offer and sign elsewhere. If this were the case the Phillies would receive a compensation round pick. A compensation pick that the Phillies could desperately use.
While it’s nice to think of Chase Utley retiring as a Phillie, for the big picture this move doesn’t make sense. While he has stayed healthy, his numbers are proving that father time is calling his name. The $13.5 million could be better used elsewhere, mainly in the depleted bullpen. It would be one thing if the Phillies had no replacement for Utley, but they do, and he’s 11 years younger and $13 million cheaper. At some point the Phillies need to move on from the core of the team that brought home a championship in 2008.
The five time All Star, and four time Silver Slugger winner is here to stay for at least two more seasons and it was the wrong move. But there’s always another side to things. Take a look at the reason why the Utley deal was the only choice, and why the Phillies were smart from locking up their franchise veteran.