2013 Phillies Report Card: Chase Utley
I keep this line in my mind: .332/.410/.566. That was Chase Utley‘s triple slash line in 2007, which was, broken wrist and playoff oh-fer notwithstanding, his greatest year. An elite defensive up-the-middle player producing that much with the bat, running the bases as well as Utley did…it was really something to see. Perhaps Prime Utley wasn’t as spectacular to watch as Prime Iverson or Prime Lindros or Prime Dawkins, but in terms of being the best player in the game at a given moment, he was in that neighborhood.
Since then, we’ve watched that greatness slip away bit by bit, thanks to age and injuries, but in 2013, we saw something of a resurgence: Utley posted his worst defensive numbers of his career, and thanks to going 8-for-11 in stolen base attempts and Mike Trout‘s growth into a planet-consuming monster, Utley won’t be baseball’s most efficient basestealer for long.
But the other numbers were pretty good: .284 batting average, his highest since 2008. A .475 slugging percentage and 125 OPS+, his highest since 2009. And most importantly, 131 games, 531 plate appearances and a two-year extension with three vesting option years that minimize long-term risk for the Phillies while all but assuring that one of the most beloved players of this generation ends his career in a Phillies uniform.
The Utley of 2013 is the best-case scenario going forward. He’s never going to be a threat for 30-30 again, he’s probably never going to post another .400 OBP or even (it’s likely) play more than 140 or so games again.
Utley’s ability to stay on the field (and yes, for him, at this point in his career, merely playing 131 games counts as being healthy) made him a potential trade asset at the deadline, when Oakland, Los Angeles and Kansas City, among others, were dealing with major holes at second base, but the Phillies held on to Utley. That’s the same decision I would have made, but the extension, relatively low-risk though it is, is an indication that the Phillies aren’t tearing the operation down completely. This isn’t a rational viewpoint, or good policy or anything, but I think the psychic benefit of keeping Utley around is worth whatever he’ll make between now and the end of his career, that having him be a one-club man, potentially on his way to the Hall of Fame, outweighs what he’ll make over the next two to five years.
And besides, it’s not like they’re going to be going to the playoffs anytime soon anyway.
My Grade: A-