Trade Utley? If sellers, Phillies must consider it

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Trade Utley? If sellers, Phillies must consider it

Memorial Day weekend has always been a convenient little checkpoint for those with an interest in baseball -- general managers, players, fans, media types -- to take stock in their favorite teams, to gaze into the crystal ball and try to project whether their clubs of interest will be relevant in playoff races come Labor Day.

No, Phillies fans, that’s not a barbecue sauce smear on your crystal ball. It’s just really difficult to see this team being a long-term factor in the NL East race.

We’re still a few weeks from the point where Phillies management will have to decide whether to keep the team together or start selling off pieces to fuel a rebuilding/retooling effort. But with the shutout losses piling up -- Friday night’s was the fifth in a 16-game stretch -- and Cliff Lee on the disabled list, it’s not too early to ponder who might bring back some future help.

Lee, an arm that could help take a team to the World Series, would have been at the top of the list, and he still might be if he comes back healthy and dealing before the July 31 trade deadline. But Lee’s health, when weighed against the money he’s owed (the remainder of $25 million this season and at least $37.5 million beyond), could seriously impact his trade value.

Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon all will have value on the trade market if rival teams are not wary of their contracts. All are signed beyond this season. Relievers Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo might be fits somewhere and Kyle Kendrick would have value to a team that subscribes to the old Pat Gillick philosophy that sometimes it’s the marginal pickup (hello, Joe Blanton) that can be a difference-maker in a pennant race.

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This all brings us to the complicated case of Chase Utley. Would he have value on the trade market? You betcha. He’s having a terrific season -- tied for the majors’ lead in doubles entering Saturday -- and a slew of contending teams could use upgrades at second base. Utley could provide several clubs with an on-field boost and his off-the-charts intangibles and championship know-how would be a huge benefit for a team looking to get over the top.

Here’s the rub, though:

While we feel confident that the Phillies would part with any of the above-mentioned players, there’s no evidence they would be willing to move their club icon second baseman. In fact, there’s only evidence that the team would not be willing to move him. That evidence includes the multi-year contract extension ($15 million this year and next with a series of options) that Utley signed last summer, a bond in which the team acknowledged that it wanted Utley to lead the team, and possibly a transitioning roster, for at least two more seasons and maybe more if his knees hold up. Utley was all for that. We know this because before talks of a contract extension escalated between the two sides, the Phillies told Utley they would try to deal him to a contender if he didn’t like what he saw in his crystal ball and felt it was time to move on. Utley said he wanted to stay.

Things are even more complicated this season. Not only has Utley been the Phillies' best player, but he also remains a do-gooder in the community and huge fan favorite. A team with sagging public appeal has to take this into a consideration -- and the Phillies always do. On top of this, Utley has looked completely healthy, running the bases like a madman at age 35. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that his career was very much in jeopardy just two years ago. If he’s going to produce like this, some might believe it best to have him do it in red pinstripes, regardless of the team’s place in the standings.

Would the Phillies be willing to trade all this away if they bow out of the race and concede to rebuilding? Too early to say. They still harbor hopes of being a contender. All we know at this point is the price for Utley would be high because the Phillies probably value his total package more than any other club.

The feeling here is the Phils absolutely should consider trading Utley. They should consider the difficult road that lies ahead of them this year and beyond and the need to infuse some young, difference-making talent into the organization. If they can get a couple of players that will help for the next decade, they should be willing to move Utley. Ideally, he can get with a team that can win a championship, the Phillies can get some talent to help them win their next championship, and Utley can come back someday to handshakes, applause and his rightful place on the Wall of Fame.

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I’ve spent the last few days polling rival front-office men and scouts as to what the Phillies should do with Utley. They all agree: It’s difficult to see this Phillies team going anywhere. This is the time to try to make a score on Utley.

“It’s almost the perfect time,” a rival front-office man said. “He’s 35 and two years ago you weren’t sure whether his career was over or not. The league recognizes how good he’s playing. Guys like that put you in the World Series.”

Utley is so revered by Phillies management and ownership that he could make the call here. If he were to say he’d like to move on and take his shot at a championship elsewhere, the For Sale sign would probably go up. If he said he wanted to stay, the Phils would not take one call inquiring about his availability.

A few days ago, I asked Utley whether he’d waive his no-trade rights to go to a contender if the Phillies remained a sub.-500 club.

“Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it,” he said.

I pressed him.

“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got for you. Sorry.”

A glance around baseball shows a sizable number of contending clubs in need of a bat at second base.

Oakland and San Francisco would both be interesting places as Utley makes his offseason home in the Bay Area. The A’s are a pitching-based team that would benefit from Utley’s offense and veteran leadership. A deep run into October wouldn’t hurt the A’s stadium quest. Utley would be a good fit on that scrappy club. And the Giants? You know front-office man Pat Burrell, one of Utley’s best friends, would push for that.

Baltimore needs pitching and doesn’t have much budget room, but Utley would help that club in a big way. And if the O’s are serious about playing Jonathan Schoop at third and Manny Machado at shortstop next season, Utley’s good at second for beyond this season.

Toronto? The Jays also need pitching more than offense, and it’s difficult to see Utley approving a deal to play on plastic grass after all the work he’s done on his knees.

St. Louis. Hmm. Interesting. The Cards miss Carlos Beltran’s bat. Kolten Wong has teetered in and out of the second base job. Utley would like St. Louis’ all-baseball feel. Seems like a good fit. Then again, the Cards could move Matt Carpenter back to second and look for a third baseman. Either way, a team to keep an eye on.

Others could emerge, particularly the Yankees and Dodgers, two teams that will spend what it takes to win and would have interest in Utley if their current second-base situations became problematic.

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Clearly, the Phillies would have to get a strong return because no one is looking to dump Chase Utley’s salary or give him away. But if the Phillies decided to trade him and Utley is up for it, there will be places to go.

I believe the Phillies have to be open to this.

Do you?

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall — not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I'll tell you what, I'm getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … there is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record.

"We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch.

"But I'm not ready to call it regression. I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).