Though the Philadelphia Phillies have played only two games in the 2015 regular season, general manager Rubén Amaro and his staff already look committed to beginning an overhaul of the current team – continuing a rebuilding process that began this past winter. As a result, trade speculation has been rampant among members of the media, whose discussions and theories have involved a litany of Phillies – from ace Cole Hamels, with his ability to draw top prospects, to first baseman Ryan Howard, with his unwieldy contract. Over the course of the past few weeks, however, these speculators’ focuses have seemed to overwhelmingly shift to one man: second baseman and 6-time All-Star Chase Utley.
The chatter concerning an Utley deal began to gain increased momentum in late March, when Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reported that an inside source had called the 36-year-old ballplayer “easily attainable.” Since then, Utley has been tied to several supposedly interested parties, including the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the San Francisco Giants – consistent pennant contenders in dire need of a second-base stopgap.
While these teams’ purported involvement, in and of itself, makes the recent Utley speculation intriguing, there’s another part of this narrative – beyond the destinations, beyond the interested clubs – that’s truly making it a consistent topic of discussion: No one knows, for certain, what this year’s Utley will do or will want to do. With shoddy knees, and with 10-and-5 rights, the second baseman is both a gamble and a potentially challenging acquisition. But, if in good health, he’s also a ballplayer with tremendous immediate upside. For franchises like the Angels and the Giants, which would likely negotiate for Utley leading up to the trade deadline, the risks must appear as staggering as the possible rewards.
By acquiring the second baseman, a competitive club would gain someone with invaluable postseason experience – an “easily attainable” veteran player. Through the previous 12 years, Utley has competed in five National League Division Series, three National League Championship Series, and two World Series. In those 10 separate series, he contributed 18 extra-base hits, with a .902 OPS; and, specifically in the 2008 and 2009 World Series, he belted seven home runs, with a 1.183 OPS.
However, while Utley is a proven postseason performer, he hasn’t played in a postseason series since 2011. His late-season play has greatly declined since the Phillies’ heyday, too, as the second baseman’s grown older and struggled with injuries. For instance, though his first-half performance during the 2014 season (.293/.349/.445 in 93 games) was strong enough to gain Utley his sixth All-Star appearance, his second-half contributions (.235/.323/.350 in 64 games) were lacking. In addition, beyond the questions surrounding his ability to play well over the regular season’s duration, the “easily attainable” Utley could make his own acquisition difficult, as he has the ability to veto any trade proposed by Amaro and the management, given his 10-and-5 rights; and it remains noteworthy that Utley, 5-time winner of the Phillies’ Heart and Hustle Award, has frequently voiced his desire to remain in Philadelphia.
“I want nothing more than to play for this organization as long as I can,” said the second baseman, during an interview in February. “I’m looking forward to getting going, working with some guys, and looking to improve. I think we have a much better team than people think.”
For the time being, nothing remains definitive as far as Utley’s career goes. Will his fitness regimen keep him from declining, or will the grueling season tear him apart? Would Utley consider an “attractive” offer from another club, or would he immediately exercise his 10-and-5 rights? Will he go to a West Coast squad, or will he keep donning the red pinstripes, working towards becoming a lifelong Phillie? All a person can really do is speculate.