CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury has an interesting piece this morning that lays out a compelling case that the Phillies are preparing to give Chase Utley a contract extension.
So what would an Utley extension look like?
Let's talk our way through it.
1) Unless you think the Phillies can outbid the Yankees for Robinson Cano, they have next to no chance of replacing Utley with a second baseman who offers anything close to his level of production. That is not an exaggeration. Beyond Utley and Cano, the only potential regular second baseman who are scheduled to become free agents are Omar Infante (.309/.340/.447, 6 HRs for the Tigers), Kelly Johnson (.252/.323/.467, 14 HRs for the Rays). Ben Zobrist has a reasonable $7 million club option with the Rays (along with a $2.5 million buyout). But that's it, unless you think Nick Punto or Ryan Raburn or Skip Schumaker should be playing every day for contender.
2) It is hard to underestimate how much value Utley would have on the open market, where he and Cano are the only two middle-of-the-order bats who play the middle infield and are scheduled to be free agents. Just this offseason, 37-year-old Marco Scutaro signed for three years and $20 million with the Giants. Utley will be 35 next season and is currently hitting .286/.346/.520 with 13 home runs.
3) Dustin Pedroia recently signed a contract extension that, on its back end, will pay him $40 million over the three years in which he will be 35, 36 and 37 years old. Ian Kinsler will make $23 million for his 35-year-old and 36-year-old seasons. Kevin Youkilis signed a one-year, $12 million deal for his 34-year-old season this year. So we can say that the going rate for a second/third baseman of Utley's ilk is around $13 million per season.
4) The biggest question with Utley is his knees, which caused him to miss two months at the start of 2011 and three months at the start of 2012. Utley has acknowledged that he will likely have to deal with his knee condition for the rest of his career. On the one hand, he has dealt with it quite well this season, his best since 2010. On the other hand, he was able to rest those knees for a month while he was on the disabled list with a strained oblique.
See if this concerns you:
In Utley's first 22 games of 2013, he hit .308/.353/.551. Then, in the 22 games that followed before his trip to the DL, he hit just .238/.326/.400.
In his first 42 games last season: .247/.360/.473.
In his last 41 games: .265/.370/.384
First 52 games of 2011: .287/.383/.487
Last 51 games of 2011: .237/.309/.382
Utley has not logged more than 400 plate appearances since 2011. He hasn't logged more than 455 plate appearances since 2010. He hasn't logged more than 600 plate appearances since 2009.
At the moment, he is on pace for his most playing time since 2009. But he missed at least 47 games in each of the previous three seasons.
5) If money is not an issue, and if the Phillies are not comfortable trading their longtime second baseman, then signing Utley obviously makes sense. When healthy, he is far better than any other option they will likely have at the position over the next three seasons. Right now, the No. 2 option is probably unproven prospect Cesar Hernandez. Even if they sign Utley and he misses long stretches of time in each season, then they are right where they would have been anyway with Hernandez in the lineup.
Of course, money is always an issue. The Jonathan Papelbon contract would have made sense if money was not an issue. But the Phillies entered the last two seasons with a gaping hole in the corner outfield while their 60-inning-a-year closer pulled down $12.5 million per annum.
To keep Utley off of the market, I'm going to project that it will take somewhere around three years and $45 million. Keep in mind, such a contract would include full no trade rights since Utley becomes a 10-and-5 player in late August.
Would that move make sense? We'll take a deeper look at that question at some point in the future.