What Does the Future Hold for Chase Utley and the Phillies?
Chase Utley‘s recent injury history:
- June 28, 2010: Utley injures his thumb in Cincinnati trying to stretch a single into a double. He soon has surgery to repair a torn ligament and misses 49 days and 43 games in total.
- Off-season, 2011: Utley, suffering from patellar tendinitis in his right knee, is initially given orders to “take it easy“. He did not appear once in a spring training game, and did not make his regular season debut until May 23. He missed 84 days (including spring training) and 45 regular season games in total.
- Off-season, 2012: The left knee is the culprit this time. Manager Charlie Manuel was “in no hurry” to put Utley, battling chondromalacia, in the spring training lineup. Utley again does not appear once during spring training and does not make his regular season debut until June 27. He missed 120 days (including spring training) and 76 regular season games in total.
Despite missing 164 of 486 games (34 percent), Utley still ranks fourth among all second basemen in that span of time in Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference.
By FanGraphs WAR, Utley ranks sixth, behind Cano, Ben Zobrist*, Pedroia, Phillips, and Kinsler. Even when he was besieged by injuries, sapping him of mobility and power, Utley was still among baseball’s best at his position.
* Zobrist does not appear in the above table because he did not play at least 80 percent of his games at second base. FanGraphs does not have a positional playing time filter.
The Phillies are in an interesting spot with Chase Utley. The 34-year-old is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season and the Phillies are in the midst of what appears to be a transitional phase. The 2014 roster very well could feature new, younger faces at catcher, second base, third base, and at both outfield corners depending on what if anything the Phillies do to finish out this off-season. Yes, for the first time since 2002, the Phillies may feature a roster that does not include Chase Utley. Diamonds aren’t forever.
GM Ruben Amaro must decide if his team will go into a total rebuild or will simply tread water until the roster is permuted to satisfaction. Just as he must choose between Carlos Ruiz and youth at the catching position, Amaro must do so at second base with Chase Utley. Freddy Galvis is the obvious heir to Utley’s throne despite an incredibly weak offensive game. Aside from Galvis, the Phillies don’t have any prospects at second base, meaning that other options would be found via free agency or via trade.
The 2014 free agent class at second base may include such names as Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist (if his $7 million club option is denied, which seems unlikely at the moment), but the two will be 31 and 33 respectively. It is hard to project which second basemen will be made available via trade as it depends on many factors, including the success of their teams in 2013. Suffice it to say the Phillies will have a very hard time replacing Utley’s production, even the old, broken-down Utley of recent vintage.
The Phillies could sign Utley to a short-term contract extension, covering two or three years, at around $10 million per year. It would be risky since the second baseman hasn’t surpassed 115 games played in a season since 2009. Utley may see his impending free agency as his last chance at a big contract, so he could choose to test the waters, turning over a new leaf with a different team.
At the moment, Utley is one of just 27 players all-time with five seasons of seven or more WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Of the 26 others, only nine others had five consecutive years of seven or more WAR as Utley did from 2005-09. Utley is also third all-time in Phillies history in WAR, trailing Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn. He will likely surpass Ashburn this season with little effort.