Are Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins even willing to be traded?

Are Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins even willing to be traded?

Everywhere I go these days, people are asking me, “When are the Phillies going to blow it up? When is the fire sale?” The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know because I’m not sure what the Philadelphia Phillies truly have to offer another team.

Ryan Howard is the immovable object. Cliff Lee, to my knowledge, hasn’t thrown a baseball in close to a month. Mike Adams just hit the disabled list. The Phillies would likely have to eat most of Jonathan Papelbon’s salary to be rid of that distraction. The wheels have come off for A.J. Burnett in recent weeks. And don’t get too excited, because the Phils are not replenishing the farm system by moving the likes of Carlos Ruiz or Marlon Byrd.

Of course, we all know who people really mean when they start hinting about the Phillies blowing it up—Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, two of the only real commodities this team has at the moment. The question is, though, can the Phillies trade either one of them?

Both Utley and Rollins have full no-trade clauses due to their 10-and-5 rights—10 years in the league, five with the same team. And while they can waive their no-trade clauses and agree to a deal, who’s to say they will?

Most folks seem to assume anybody would want out in Utley’s or Rollins’ situations because the Phillies are the Titanic right now. These are 35-year-old players we’re talking about, guys with few legitimate runs at a World Series left in the tank. How could they pass up a golden opportunity to win one somewhere else?

I’m not so sure it’s that simple.

Utley, in particular, doesn’t strike me as somebody who wants to move on. He signed an incredibly team-friendly contract just last summer to remain in Philadelphia, then afterwards went so far as to say he was happy to finish his career here no matter what.

"This is something that, no matter what happens, I'm not going to regret. I've talked to some guys that have played here and moved onto other organizations. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I'm excited. I'm happy to be still a Phillie, and hopefully a Phillie for another five years."

Meanwhile, when Rollins was being pressed by reporters about a potential trade last summer, he admitted he had no intention of leaving until after he set some more franchise records. Now that he’s a mere five base knocks away from becoming the Phillies’ all-time hits leader, the thinking is he might be more susceptible to a deal.

Don’t get your hopes up. Many viewed Rollins’ comments as selfish at the time, but it seems that was just his way of saying he doesn’t want to go anywhere. He admitted as much in February.

“I’m not planning on waiving my no-trade clause,” he said during a sit-down with Marshall Harris on Wednesday. “My plan is to bring a championship back here, to be honest.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what would compel either of them to stay. Anybody can see the Phillies are bad and will likely continue to be bad for awhile.

Perhaps such a decision would be rooted in part in something other than wins and losses. Utley and Rollins have built homes and lives in the area, which at this stage of their careers might matter more to them than winning. They have a world championship, so they may not be that interested in leaving their comfort zone to chase another.

Don’t assume the organization is necessarily going to be complicit in your fire sale, either. While it’s plain to see this franchise is in desperate need of a rebuilding process, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has stated time and time again there is no blowing up the Phillies. There is only “retooling.”

Misguided or not, the organization seems committed to putting a winning product on the field every year. You can certainly envision how Utley and Rollins might still be useful if the roster could be retooled quickly. It's the same reasons other teams might find them valuable at the trade deadline.

So as long as the Amaro is telling players the Phillies are committed to winning, and those players are happy and comfortable where they’re at, are they even interested in waiving no-trade clauses? Only Utley and Rollins know the answer to that question for sure, but neither has given any indication they are willing to move.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”