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]

Flyers gearing up for first outdoor game since 2012

Flyers gearing up for first outdoor game since 2012

It’s been five years since the Flyers played an NHL game outdoors: the 2012 Winter Classic.

Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?

Citizens Bank Park. The day after New Year’s. Sun beating down amid 40-degree temperatures and the game being moved back to 3:30 p.m. to assure better ice.

Well, it’s going to happen again Saturday night at Heinz Field as the Flyers meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL’s Stadium Series.

Dave Hakstol’s team will practice Thursday morning at Skate Zone, fly to Pittsburgh, then practice Friday at 5 p.m. on the outdoor ice.

Seven current Flyers played in the 2012 Winter Classic: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Michael Del Zotto, who played for the Rangers.

“It was kinda fun,” Del Zotto said this week. “Wasn’t that when [Danny] Briere had that penalty shot at the end? How much time was left? Couple seconds?”

More than that. There were 19.6 ticks left when Briere was foiled by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a 3-2 loss, in which Mike Rupp, of all players, scored twice on Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even worse, the Flyers blew an early 2-0 lead.

“It was a ton of fun, just awesome,” Del Zotto recalled. “You try not to get too hyped up in the moment. That one, our first one and one of the first they had done. So much fun. It bring you back to your roots.

“For me, growing up, I had a backyard rink. I remember it was like yesterday being on that thing. All day every day I had a chance. But we also have to realize it’s a huge game for us. It’s a four-point game. Although it is outdoors or indoors, we need those points.”

Things could be rather wet. For starters, the temperature in Pittsburgh is supposed to hit 77 degrees on Friday. That could severely affect the Penguins skate at 2:30, the Flyers practice later and their family skate, as well.

Then on Saturday, the temperature drops into the low 40s but not before some significant rain. When the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Winter Classic, it rained but the ice didn’t melt.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Del Zotto said. “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

In all, there are 13 Flyers, who have participated in an outdoor game either in the NHL, AHL, Europe or in college, during their lifetime.

Most of them say the hardest thing to get used to is ocular – looking through the glass and not seeing the fans. It’s like playing in an open environment all around you without people.

“It’s a little bit different, but you get used to it,” Del Zotto said. “After the anthem, you kinda get used to it. From there on, the game is going on and the crowd, you zone them out. You don’t even hear them and just focus on the game.”

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

We answered half of your questions in the first mailbag this week (see story)

But there are plenty more to go. 

With free agency just around the corner, let's not waste any time jumping into today's questions: 

I don't think so. 

Yeah, moving on from Connor Barwin is going to be tough. He's a great guy and has been a tremendous asset in the community. His foundation is amazing. But on the field, his production dropped while his price tag soared. That's a problem. 

Barwin has said publicly that he'd be willing to take a pay cut to stay in Philly. He's a smart guy and knew there's no way the Eagles are going to keep him around with an $8.35 million cap hit, especially when they can save $7.75 million of that if they cut him. ... So maybe they would keep him at a reduced rate. There's logic in that, but it's time to move on. I don't think Barwin would really want to stay for the pay cut it would probably take. 

Right now, Barwin is blocking Vinny Curry from seeing significant playing time. And while Curry didn't have a good year in 2016, he's getting paid a lot, so it's time to see if he can live up to that contract. 

And for Barwin, while he loves Philly and has made this his home, he deserves to be in a defense that fits him better.

I'm a little surprised more haven't come already. To me, this likely means the Eagles are trying to exhaust any trade options first. Why cut a guy if you can get some kind of return, even a late-round or conditional pick? 

There's no real harm in waiting right now, and maybe the team will find a trade partner for one of their players on the chopping block. 

I always like these hypotheticals from Drew. Basically, I'd keep the youngest and most-talented players:

Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Jordan Hicks, Malcolm Jenkins. 

Wentz, Cox and Johnson were pretty easy. Then I really struggled. Jenkins is the oldest guy on the list, but he's so important to the team. I left off Brandon Graham and Zach Ertz and Brandon Brooks and Jordan Matthews, which I'm not so sure about. This was harder than I anticipated. 

I guess you're talking about Allen Barbre's hamstring injury. Yeah, barring something I don't know about, he should be completely healed and ready to go. 

Here's something to think about, though: Barbre will be 33 when the 2017 season starts and I wouldn't put him down in pen as the starter at left guard next year. If Jason Kelce is still on the team, he'll be the center, but why not let Isaac Seumalo battle for the left guard job? 

If Seumalo wins the spot, then Barbre is still a relatively inexpensive and really good backup option. 

I honestly think Jason Kelce is better than most fans in this city think. People see him get blown up a few times in a year — really blown up — and think he's an awful player. He's not. No, he can't go 1-on-1 with nose tackles, but he's still great at getting downfield and into the second level. 

And then there's the importance of the center. I don't know exactly how important he is in terms of calling the shots on the line, but he didn't miss a single snap in 2016. I know cutting or trading Kelce would save significant cap space, but I wouldn't do it. The Eagles have shown they'll do whatever it takes to develop Wentz; I think keeping his veteran center for a second year would help.