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.
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.