Robinson Cano and Chase Utley

At the time of my writing this, Robinson Cano is almost definitely a member of the Seattle Mariners, the club just hasn’t confirmed it. He’s jumping aboard for a 10-year, $240 million or so contract, a massive statement by the Mariners that could just be the beginning of a huge offseason in the Pacific Northwest.

All of this is fascinating, especially as it relates to the Phillies, because it further illustrates the immense bargain the Phillies got with Chase Utley.

In January 2007, following his second consecutive season of 7.0 rWAR or better, the Phillies signed Utley to a seven-year, $85 million deal that, at the time, made him the second known player to get seven years after three or fewer years of service time.

In the first four years of the deal, from 2007-10, Utley averaged 140 games per season and a line of .296/.393/.518, steal 59 bases in 64 tries (92 percent), three All-Star starts (and a fourth selection), three Silver Sluggers and three top-15 MVP finishes. It’s entirely conceivable that he’d have won the 2007 MVP had he not had his hand broken, and equally conceivable that he was the second-most valuable player in all of baseball for most of that stretch, behind Pujols; Utley’s 30.8 rWAR over that stretch does trail only Pujols’s 35.1, for one.

A direct comparison of Utley and Cano is limited by Utley’s late start. Cano was an immediate regular at 22 years old, while Utley didn’t even debut until he was 24 and wasn’t a regular until 2006. We can, at least, compare their ages 26-30 seasons.

OBP

Utley Age Cano
.376 26 .352
.379 27 .381
.410 28 .349
.380 29 .379
.397 30 .383

SLG

Utley Age Cano
.540 26 .520
.527 27 .534
.566 28 .533
.535 29 .550
.508 30 .516

WAR (rWAR/fWAR)

Utley Age Cano
7.2/7.1 26 4.5/4.0
7.3/7.1 27 8.2/6.4
7.8/7.5 28 5.4/5.3
9.0/8.0 29 8.5/7.7
8.2/8.0 30 7.6/6.0

After 30, Utley’s body began to betray him. He developed a chronic knee condition that greatly hampered his ability to stay on the field from 2010-12. The 2013 season saw something resembling a return to form, with power showing up (.475 SLG being his highest since 2009) although his walk rate (and HBP rate) was shaved to 8.5 percent, below his career rate of 9.7 percent.

Utley was extended in August of this year with one of the smarter contracts Ruben Amaro and Co. have doled out. Utley is guaranteed $25 million over the next two seasons (roughly the amount Cano will make in one season during his own age 35-and-on seasons) with three vesting options at 500 PA each that turn into club options if they don’t vest. It’s incredibly team-friendly while still paying Utley close to what his expected value would be if he stays on the field.

Consider: Utley was set to be a free agent after the 2009 season, had he not been inked to his original seven-year pact. He would have hit the market at the same age as Cano, having posted as-good-or-better numbers offensively with better defense. In light of what Cano just received from the Mariners, Utley’s pas and future money (as always, assuming health) look to be more of a bargain as time passes.

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12 comments

  1. Glenn bobeck

    December 06, 2013 04:55 PM

    By far in my opinion Utley has been the best phillies over the last 20 years. Except for the injuries he is a hall of farmer!!

  2. Don Whipple

    December 06, 2013 08:47 PM

    Can you imagine what kind of money Chase Utley could have made playing for the Yankees? Anyone who pays ANY attention to baseball has to love #26’s approach. I know we Phillies fans do!

  3. sweatingisnormal

    December 07, 2013 03:40 PM

    Don’t forget to add that Mutley’s hustle and dedication to the game is second to none and Cano seems like another no hustle, privileged prima donna with talent. Bet his attitude and refusal to go all out all the time cost him tens of millions from the yankees…he should have been more mindful of that if he wanted to be (paid like) the face of the franchise.

  4. hk

    December 07, 2013 04:39 PM

    The Yankees offered Cano $25M per year. They just didn’t want to go beyond 7 years.

  5. bubbuh

    December 07, 2013 07:04 PM

    Looking backward much? Cano and Utley played slightly different offensive roles for their ballclubs. While their careers have run in parallel, Utley is 4 years older. When one looks at their stats overall, Cano is by far the more productive player simply because he’s the one who has shown up for work everyday.

    If me ifs. Utley’s injuries have cost the Phillies much and his age have will cost the the Phillies even more. His contract extension is money for nothing.

    Cano will almost certainly end up in the HOF and he might help a second club to a WS, just like Burrell, Victorino and Pence did.

    PS The Yankees at some point will realize that they have a scarecrow standing there, pretending to be a manager and replace him. It won’t take them as long as it took the Phillies to replace Manuel.

  6. GB

    December 07, 2013 11:09 PM

    I love Utley, but the situations are pretty different. Cano is in his productive prime and became a FA on the upswing whereas Utley was a broken down shell of himself for 2 out of the last 3 years and, about to turn 35, is likely on the decline and thus taking a shorter term deal with the Phillies made sense. Cano got paid waaaayyy too much by Seattle, no one player is worth that much $$, but its certainly more understanding to invest more in Cano than Utley in the current context

  7. Larry

    December 08, 2013 09:14 AM

    If Utley were still in his prime, he’d be worth over 20 mil per year, but he’s not. Right now Cano is the far superior player. I would cancel out the Utley 5 year deal, Chooch 3-4 year deal, Byrd 2-3 year deal and rather have a superstar in his prime with Cano. You are spending over 31 mil next year for the 3 older guys when Cano is a t 24 mil. Think of it this way: What would you rather have right now?

    Utley + Chooch + Byrd for 31-32 mil for the next 2-3 years or Cano + Ruf + stop gaps of Kratz and Rupp combo at 25 mil per year. If the Phils weren’t good in 3 years, Cano would still be young enough to have a nice trade value for prospects. However you definitely trade him 4 years down the line at the most. It’s all about opportunity spending when the right guy comes along. I hate the mentality of people saying, well…..we don’t have someone better than Chooch right now so we will spend 8.7 mil per year. With him being so old and injury prone over the years, how much more production would you get out of Chooch than a cheap platoon of stopgaps? You will still have to use the other guys anyway, because Chooch is always injured and he’s only getting older.

    That’s the problem with RAJ. We could never afford a Chase Utley right now in his prime, because he overspends on mediocre old players. Like I said in a previous thread, was it worth spending 8 mil per year on Byrd who is old and had some good numbers because he cheated? RAJ is spending 16 times more money on Byrd than Ruf. Now you have to hope that Byrd will have as much power as Ruf does and hope Byrd OBP will be as good as Ruf and it probably won’t be…. and you’re taking the gamble by spending 16 times more than Ruf who is way younger?

    That money should be allocated somewhere else….ie getting a guy like Cano who is a game changer. Don’t worry about the 10 year contract, use a master plan of 3-4 years then trade for prospects. With RAJ, there really is no long term plan, he doesn’t think that way.

    Oh BTW with my plan I also would have gotten prospects for Utley and Chooch at the deadline. So you are rebuilding the farm and getting a superstar (Cano) in his prime while spending less money than Utley + Chooch + Byrd, now giving you 7-8 mil more to spend on another hole on the team.

  8. Larry

    December 08, 2013 09:20 AM

    “now giving you 7-8 mil more to spend on another hole on the team.”

    I meant 6-7 mil lol

  9. stanozolol

    December 08, 2013 10:20 AM

    “It’s incredibly team-friendly while still paying Utley close to what his expected value would be if he stays on the field.”

    I love Utley (I named my car after him), but I don’t see how it is reasonable to expect to be healthy for a full season. Is there data to project a player’s expected playing time given his medical history?

  10. Adam

    December 09, 2013 06:20 AM

    Don’t get me wrong, Cano is a good player, but when it comes to dedication and playing the game the right way, Utley absolutely destroys Cano. I live in NY and tune in to Yanks games once in a while, and I just cannot stand the way Cano portrays himself. You can tell he doesn’t cherish his god given talent. Doesn’t hustle on or off the field. Doesn’t run out grounders, pop ups. Since Chase’s entrance into the league, he’s hustled his butt off, regardless of the score or situation. The amount of times I’ve seen him hit a measly bouncer back to the pitcher and see him run as hard as he can to first is just admirable. Last year vs. the Braves in a blowout game, Chase hit a grounder down the first base line and beat the first baseman to the bag. We all know what Cano would’ve done. Unfortunately, Chase’s hustle and dedication has also been his physical demise. Up to his age30 season, nobody had ever seen second baseman numbers put up like Utley’s. What a shame to see Chase actually slump during the season. Up until 2010, it seemed like he wouldn’t go two games without a hit. As for Cano, he is absolutely a hell of a player, but I would take Chase on my team any day over him.

  11. Steve

    December 10, 2013 02:34 PM

    We just saw the Anchor that sunk Seattle. This will do for the Mariners what A-Fraud did for the Rangers, ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING! I can imagine RAJ and the Mariners GM sitting in the bar, hoisting a few, RAJ looking at him and saying, “Man, am I glad you signed Cano to 10 years cause I’ll need a job in a year or two and I love Seattle.”

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