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]

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).