Extension with Utley has positives but won’t help Phillies become contenders again
Chase Utley came to terms with the Phillies Wednesday night on an extension that, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, is worth $27 million for two years with a vesting option for a third year. Exactly how that option would vest has yet to be revealed, but by the very nature of such options, one can assume it would do so only if Utley’s play warranted the extra year. The Phillies should have sold high on the 34-year-old Utley at last week’s non-waiver trading deadline in advance of what would have been his free agency this offseason, but Philadelphia opted not to do that. Despite that, this deal makes sense for both parties, with one notable catch.
First, the positives. Beyond the reasonable length and cost, Philadelphia has two younger players in the organization — 23-year-old Freddy Galvis and 20-year-old Roman Quinn — who need a little more seasoning. Galvis, who can play second base, third base, shortstop and the outfield, is a lousy hitter but an outstanding fielder who can serve as Utley’s caddy for the length of his contract, assuming he is not needed to fill in for Jimmy Rollins at short. Rollins, incidentally, is signed through next season with an option for 2015 that vests with 600 plate appearances next year or 1,100 between this year and next provided Rollins doesn’t finish next year on the disabled list, which could be an indication of the nature of Utley’s vesting option for 2016.
Quinn is a 20-year-old Sally League shortstop with outstanding speed (he has 62 steals at an 81 percent success rate in 133 professional games) who was rated the Phillies’ fourth-best prospect by Baseball Prospectus coming into this season. He projects to be a second baseman or centerfielder by the time he reaches the majors, which may not be until 2016 or 2017, a pace that would put him on schedule to replace Utley at the end of his current deal assuming that option year vests. Quinn hasn’t hit a lick in A-ball this year (just .238/.323/.346), but he’s a legitimate prospect, a second-round pick in the 2011 draft and rated the 100th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America coming into this season.
With Galvis having shown no hitting ability in the majors — he has a mere .218/.261/.365 line in 112 games the past two years — and Quinn at least three years away, it’s hard to blame the Phillies for sticking with a fan favorite and franchise great in Utley. There’s another reason for Philadelphia’s move: The market for quality second basemen has effectively run dry. Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips, Howie Kendrick, Aaron Hill, Jose Altuve, Marco Scutaro and Dan Uggla are all signed through at least 2015. Beyond that, the Rays own options on Ben Zobrist through 2015, and Jason Kipnis, Matt Carpenter, Neil Walker, Gordon Beckham, Darwin Barney and rookies Nick Franklin, Jedd Gyorko and Anthony Rendon are among the remaining second baseman under team control through at least 2015. All of that casts the impending free agency of Robinson Cano into even greater relief. In fact, the only forces suppressing Cano’s value this offseason will be the relative lack of demand with so many teams already covered at the position and the Yankees’ new-found thriftiness.
Where the logic of the extension breaks down is in Philadelphia’s belief that it will contend during the duration of the deal. Impressive as the names the team has under contract are (Utley, Howard, Rollins, Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Papelbon) and as encouraging as the performances from Utley and Domonic Brown have been this season, the best days of all but Hamels and Brown are likely behind them. The Phillies barely eked out a .500 record last year, and they are 11 games below that mark thus far this year. Their 102-win finish in 2011 feels like half a decade ago and everything has been moving in the wrong direction since. Philadelphia is most likely going to spend the rest of Utley’s time with the team as also-rans, but that won’t be because of Utley’s contract.