Ruben Amaro Hopes Chase Utley Is a Phillie for Life

Ruben Amaro Hopes Chase Utley Is a Phillie for Life

While the Phillies sail into Pittsburgh for three games with the Pirates, trade winds are gusting back home. They must be getting strong, because even the heavy stuff is starting to get blown away.

Chase Utley figures to be one of the Phils’ most coveted pieces as the deadline approaches. A free agent at the end of the season, Bob Ford writes the time is now to move Utley in Tuesday’s Inquirer. There’s even a rumor circulating that the Los Angeles Dodgers, Utley’s hometown team, could have interest.

I’m sure plenty of teams would have some level of interest in a second baseman with an OPS of .866, so who exactly is beside the point. To trade Utley anywhere would be a polarizing decision.

He is the Phillies’ last sacred cow.

Nobody cares if mercenaries like Jonathan Papelbon or Michael Young go. As long as the price was right for Cliff Lee, most folks would understand. Jimmy Rollins has been an everyday player for the Fightins since 2001, but I doubt there would be much of an outcry from an occasionally under-appreciative fan base.

It’s probably fair to say none of the stars during this waning era of Phillies baseball ever achieved and maintained the kind of popularity across the board as Utley. Missing most of the previous two seasons and spring trainings with knee issues may have cut into his cache a little, but he remains the most universally beloved player inside that dugout.

At 34, Utley is proving he can still play, too. He’s already matched his home run total from the last two seasons with 11 – doing in 54 games what took 83 and 103 before – and he should surpass the 16 he bashed in 2010 as long as he stays healthy. His batting average is .284. We’ll see how Utley is holding up come September, but as of now it looks like he’s turned the clock back by three years.

Unfortunately the facts are Utley is not under contract beyond this season, and the Phillies continue to sink in the standings. It’s only natural for other teams to inquire about the second baseman’s availability.

Given the age, the medical history, the free agency, Ruben Amaro Jr. has to consider a future without Utley – although even the Phils’ general manager seems reluctant to do so. In an interview with CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler, Amaro put over the notion that the 11-year vereran could finish his career in red pinstripes.

"He's been an iconic player for us," general manager Ruben Amaro said Friday. "My intention would be to keep him in our uniform for the rest of his career, if possible.

"I kind of view Chase as a Phillie for life. That's my hope."

There are undoubtedly sentimental Phillies fans who would like to see that happen as well. The way he’s swinging the bat these days, it’s not difficult to convince yourself the organization could maybe squeeze a couple more campaigns out of Utley before he becomes a shell of his former self.

Another sect of followers would rather see the Phils embrace the rebuild. We hear it over and over again, that professional sports is a business, and executives can’t make decisions based on emotional attachment. Who knows how much longer Utley can perform at a high level.

Of course, somebody has to play second base next season. Is there a better option out there, whether it comes from in the farm system or elsewhere?

Is it important that Utley be able to finish his career in Philadelphia? Does he want to finish his career in Philadelphia, where the glory days of NL East titles and World Series runs are quickly disappearing? What kind of contract would it take to keep him?

These are all important questions, but when the phone starts ringing, they could all be trumped by one: “How much?”

>> Ruben Amaro: 'I view Chase Utley as a Phillie for life' [CBS]
>> Now is the time for Phillies to trade Utley [Inq]

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).