Contract extension for Utley? Sure feels like it

slideshow-072413-phillies-utley-ap.jpg

Contract extension for Utley? Sure feels like it

ST. LOUIS -- Are the Phillies nearing a contract extension with Chase Utley?

The hunch here is that they might be.

Something seems to be brewing.

Again, it’s just a hunch, but we thought we’d share it anyway.

The Phillies are always super quiet when it comes to contract matters -- sometimes they even fib -- and Utley is intensely private.

So this hunch is based on observations, conversations and signs.

To wit:

• A person with knowledge of the situation says the Phillies have had recent talks with Utley’s representation about a contract extension.

• Word in well-placed baseball circles is that the Phillies are not listening to trade offers for Utley.

• The decision to broaden second-base prospect Cesar Hernandez’s utility skills by having him play some outfield shouldn’t be underestimated, especially upon further review of the comment that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. made to CSNPhilly.com on Sunday.

“If we’re fortunate enough to keep Chase in our uniform, which we hope to do, Cesar becomes a utility piece,” Amaro said Sunday.

• In the same conversation, Amaro was asked point blank if he’d begun to speak with Utley’s representation about an extension.

“We wouldn’t discuss it even if we did,” he said.

He didn’t say no. Amaro isn’t always forthcoming when it comes to matters of negotiations, but he has a way of shooting down the ridiculous. He didn’t shoot this one down.

There are other signs:

• Wednesday on the team’s official website, an advertisement promoting next week’s three-game series against the Giants featured a picture of Utley. Two of those games come after the trade deadline. Would the Phils use a player they were planning to trade to promote a series that comes up right after the trade deadline? Doubtful.

And don’t think the trade deadline is not significant. Utley can be a free agent at the end of the season. The best way to get value for him would be to deal him before waivers would be needed between Aug. 1 and Aug. 21. Utley gains full no-trade rights on Aug. 22 when he reaches 10 years in the majors and five with the same club.

It is difficult to imagine the Phillies would risk having Utley walk and get nothing for him. If they’re not trading him, they’re probably committed to extending him.

• The Phils will give out posters of Utley on the next homestand. That could be a sign that they plan to extend the relationship, though last year they followed through on a long-planned Hunter Pence Bobblehead giveaway after the outfielder was traded.

Around the time Pence was traded, the Phils announced a contract extension for Cole Hamels. So even as the Phils were dumping players -- as could happen next week -- they were sending a message to their fans that they intended to keep their best and most recognizable talent. It might make marketing sense to send this message again soon as the Phils have 34 home games remaining. They want to sell tickets regardless if they stay in the race or not.

And finally, there is this sign that the Phillies and Utley might be nearing a contract extension:

• Amaro, the man who has said he wants to make Utley a Phillie for life, and Utley, who as far back as spring training said he’d like to stay with the club, have recently been spotted huddling for private conversations at the ballpark.

Bet they’re not talking about sushi restaurants, though there is a good one right around the corner from Busch Stadium if this hunch proves to be a whole lot of bunk.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.

Phillies release Michael Saunders, Jeanmar Gomez

Phillies release Michael Saunders, Jeanmar Gomez

The Michael Saunders experiment is finally over.

The Phillies have officially released Saunders and reliever Jeanmar Gomez after the pair were designated for assignment Tuesday. After clearing unconditional release waivers, the duo is now free to sign with any team.

Saunders signed a one-year, $9 million deal in the offseason to jolt the Phillies' power-needy corner outfield spots. Saunders floundered in his time with the Phillies, slashing .205/.257/.360 with six home runs, 20 RBIs and 51 strikeouts. Saunders boasted the league's worst on-base percentage among qualified hitters (.257). 

With a white-hot May, Aaron Altherr supplanted Saunders in the outfield, making the Phillies' big offseason acquisition expendable.

After saving 37 games in 2016, Gomez's late-season struggles carried over to 2017. Gomez tossed a 4.85 ERA in 2016, en route to tossing the eighth-most saves in baseball. He was a noticeably different pitcher as the season wore on, as he lost his grip on the closer position. Gomez rounded out the year with a 19.13 ERA in September.

Gomez posted a 7.25 ERA in 18 appearances this season.