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]

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).