What Should the Phillies Do with Chase Utley?

What Should the Phillies Do with Chase Utley?

In the midst of a four-game losing streak with less than a week to go until the trade deadline, it would seem the Phillies are sliding comfortably into “seller” territory. However, Ruben Amaro Jr. has exhibited reluctance when it comes to the notion of moving some of the club’s biggest pieces.

Cliff Lee’s name had all but fallen off the radar by the All-Star break. Now word has it Chase Utley won’t be on the block, either. In fact, Jim Salisbury reported on Thursday that the Phils and Utley might be talking contract extension, adding the team is not even listening to offers for the second baseman at this point in time.

That they are looking into an extension shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Earlier this month Amaro told reporters he hoped Utley would be a Phillie for life. Likewise, Utley admitted he can’t envision wearing another uniform within the last two weeks. The writing has been on the wall for awhile.

We’ll get into whether or not this is a good idea in a moment, but first here's why the timing of these discussions make sense. If the Phils are interested in re-signing Utley, who can become a free agent at season’s end, that means right now – before the deadline – is the time to start hashing out a deal, or at least confirm both sides are on the same page. That way if negotiations aren’t working out, it’s not too late to ship him out.

But beyond sentimental reasons, you might be wondering why the Phillies want to hold on to Utley. He’ll turn 35 in December, hasn’t played anywhere close to a full season since 2009, and chronic knee problems that caused him to miss consecutive spring trainings and several months of baseball in ’11 and ’12 have to be a concern.

The answer might be simpler than you think. Even with his age and injury history, there are few second basemen in baseball better than Utley. His non-qualified .520 slugging percentage would be tops in the Majors at the position, his .866 OPS good for fourth, while 3.2 wins above replacement ranks fifth.

Does anybody honestly think the Phillies are going to be able to replace that kind of production with another player? Utley will be the second-best free agent on the market behind Robinson Cano (and he’s not getting out of New York), and who in their farm system is a better option? Cesar Hernandez? Freddy Galvis?

Some would suggest the Phillies aren’t necessarily looking for “better” as much as they are simply trying to get younger, but you have to ask yourself whether the prospect(s) they would get in return for a rental player combined with the downgrade at second base would actually be more helpful than Utley. Remember, we’re talking about a big-market team that is currently scheduled to shed over $50 million in salary this offseason. They have to get younger, although not necessarily at the expense of trying to compete in 2014 and beyond.

What an extension will cost might be the most prescient question of all. Obviously nobody wants to see the Phillies get locked into another lengthy, expensive contract with an aging veteran. Dealing with Utley might not be too taxing though. David Murphy presented an estimate of sorts for the Daily News:

Dustin Pedroia recently signed a contract extension that, on its back end, will pay him $40 million over the three years in which he will be 35, 36 and 37 years old. Ian Kinsler will make $23 million for his 35-year-old and 36-year-old seasons. Kevin Youkilis signed a one-year, $12 million deal for his 34-year-old season this year. So we can say that the going rate for a second/third baseman of Utley's ilk is around $13 million per season.

$13 million is actually slightly less than Utley is earning ($15M) for 2013, and it's hard to imagine he’d get more than three years from anybody. That still may be a bit on the long side, especially with full a no-movement, but he’s demonstrated this season that there is still quite a bit left in the tank.

At this stage everybody is aware of the risks associated with Utley, and knows he needs a new contract. But beyond wishing to see him retire as a Phillie, there’s typically not much mention of the upside to keeping him around – which mainly boils down to he’s the best the organization can do for now or in the immediate future it would appear.

Truthfully, Utley is the best that a lot of teams could do at second base, and probably will be for at least another year or two. Galvis and Hernandez might be nice players in their own right, but is either one of them going to reach the level of a five-time All Star? A Hall-of-Fame talent? Would trading Utley net a player or players who will ever be worth even close to as much as he is today?

These are difficult questions to answer. If I'm Amaro, I'm still playing both sides of this, and my refusal to take calls on Utley is only to drive the price up. At the same time, I still need a second baseman, so I'm not just giving this one away.

What would you do?

>> Contract extension for Utley? Sure seems like it [CSN]
>> Breakdown of what a Chase Utley extension would look like [DN]

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”