When Chase Utley went barreling in to Chicago Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro last night in a knee-on-knee collission, I could only hope for Utley's sake that he had already signed a contract extension with the Phillies. As it turns out, that may have been the case.
Chase Utley could be on his way to playing his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies. The veteran second baseman has come to an agreement on a contract extension with the Phillies and is reported to be for two years at somewhere between $25-$30 million with options. Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com were among the first to report the news of an extension possibly being finalized and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the possible vesting options. The bottom line here is the Phillies have committed to Utley for the next two seasons at a higher price than may have been expected.
Or perhaps this continues a pattern of the Phillies rewarding players in their family for past success rather than the future outlook. I have been on record saying that moving on from Utley at second base would be a perfectly acceptable move, be it by bringing in a new face via free agency or by diving head first in to a youth movement to see if upcoming talent can blossom in to key roles on this roster in the next few years. A glance at the 2014 free agent pool shows a number of options that would have been more likely to produce more over the next two years, and the Phillies have shown they can be players when it comes to acquiring talent. But unless the Phillies were going to be legitimate players for 31-year old Robinson Cano, were there any free agents that had you genuinely excited for in 2014? With that being the case, I tend to be perfectly fine with a two-year deal with Utley and I accept the realistic possibility he will be a 100-game player in spite of the cost to the team. As Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley says, the Phillies are getting good value for one of the game's top second basemen.
While the free agent pool may have been shallow at second base outside of Utley (one of MLB Trade Rumors' top ten free agents in 2014) and Cano (the top free agent to be in baseball), the extension of Utley's contract may also suggest just how little faith the Phillies management has in their minor league prospects for the next two years. Freddy Galvis has plenty of dazzle in his glove in the middle infield but can't hit a lick of major league pitching yet outside of the rare clutch moment. The jury is still out on Cesar Hernandez, who has played just nine games in the big leagues. The Phillies had been experimenting with moving Hernandez to the outfield and if Utley is going to be around through 2015, that may continue to be an alternative for the prospect. The idea may be have to Utley as the regular second baseman, with Galvis, Hernandez and/or Kevin Frandsen filling in on his off-days. Even if Utley's production is diminishing along with his knees, it is still likely he will be able to produce more offensively than Galvis and Hernandez could combined.
To some, Utley playing his entire career in Philadelphia will be something special. The sentimental part of me would like to see it but ultimately I want a winner. I think Utley can be a part of a winning team again if the rest of the pieces come together around him. Whatever happens, it appears we will see the infield core of Jimmy Rollins, Utley and Ryan Howard stay together next year and possibly in 2015 (Rollins has an option for 2015). With Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still here, Ruben Amaro must find a way to get one last run out of this team.