Chase Utley “easily attainable” for teams willing to pay salary
It’s no secret that the Phillies have begun to build toward the future. They’ve already traded away veterans Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo this offseason. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. publicly voiced the organization’s desire to part ways with Ryan Howard and is reportedly willing to eat $50 million of the remaining $60 million owed to the declining first baseman over the next three seasons. And while nobody has been willing to meet the Phillies asking price for either Cole Hamels or Jonathan Papelbon this offseason, the endless stream of trade rumors surrounding the two hurlers will surely continue through July.
But the move that would truly signal a new era in Philadelphia—at least symbolically—would be the departure of Chase Utley. Before DL stints became a yearly ritual for Utley, he perennially performed at an MVP-caliber level and helped lead the Phillies to five straight NL East crowns and a World Series title in 2008. On Saturday, Alden Gonzalez, who covers the Angels for MLB.com, tweeted that he’s been hearing that Utley is “easily attainable” if a team is willing to take on his contract.
Utley has remained a productive player into his 30s but has notably had trouble staying on the field, which was clearly factored into the structure of the contract that he signed with the Phillies at the end of the 2013 season. He’s owed $15 million next season and has options for the next three seasons but each option only vests if he accumulates 500 plate appearances in the previous season. If Utley fails to clear that mark, the option turns into a club option that can be valued between $5 million and $11 million based on the number of days he spent on the disabled list in the previous season.
A team trading for Utley could potentially be on the hook for $60 million over the next four years but most of the risk associated with acquiring the 36-year-old is downplayed by the necessary threshold required for each year’s paycheck to be guaranteed. He may no longer be the superstar he was during his peak but he has still averaged 3.5 WARP per 500 plate appearances over the past four seasons. Some additional decline in his skills will surely come over the next few years—particularly defensively—but even if his production falls to league average, most teams should be happy to take on his salary if he’s able to stay on the field.
There’s also the matter of Utley’s 10-and-5 rights, which make it necessary that he approves any trade out of Philadelphia. Last July, Utley publicly said that he wanted to stay in Philadelphia but his comments also came before the organization’s offseason moves and the drama surrounding Howard and Hamels. With the team now clearly not ready to contend in the immediate future it would be surprising to see Utley veto a deal to a legitimate contender.
As for potential destinations, the Angels, Blue Jays and White Sox stand out as potential contenders with the most glaring needs at the keystone. Alex Anthopolous would probably be thrilled to end the battle between Ryan Goins and Devon Travis for the second base job in Toronto by simply bringing Utley into the fold. However, the Blue Jays general manager indicated at the end of January that the organization has somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million-$7 million remaining to spend. Barring some last-minute maneuvering that would surely start with dumping the $5 million owed to Dioner Navarro in 2015, the Jays probably won’t be able to bring Utley north of the border.
The White Sox were among the offseason’s biggest spenders and would shore up one of their biggest remaining holes by acquiring Utley. The club looks like it will enter the season with a payroll in the ballpark of $116 million, which would be slightly below what it was in 2013. Getting Utley to come to the South Side of Chicago would likely balloon that figure to the highest it’s ever been, so it’s unclear whether Rick Hahn would have to shed some payroll before getting the thumbs up on a trade. With the AL Central sure to be tightly contested this season, a potential two- or three-win improvement could drastically swing the club’s playoff odds.
Finally, Gonzalez wrote over the weekend that the Angels enter the season with more payroll flexibility than they have had in at least four years but that the team plans on giving their in-house second base options a chance before looking to the trade market for an upgrade. Owner Arte Moreno said earlier this spring that the organization has another $15 million to spend during the season, and as Gonzalez notes that figure could potentially increase depending on the length of Josh Hamilton’s possible suspension. If the combination of Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green and Taylor Featherston doesn’t work out, Utley—who was born and raised in Southern California—could be a necessary and realistic upgrade.
Marlins and Rangers talking trade for lefty arm
Remember those Cole Hamels trade rumors from earlier? The latest one came on Friday from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, who writes that the Rangers and Phillies continue to discuss a potential package of prospects for the prized southpaw but remain far apart on an actual deal.
The Rangers may be unwilling to part with their top prospects in exchange for Hamels but they are currently looking to alternative left-handed arms on the trade market. According to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, the Rangers are talking to the Marlins about both swing-man Brad Hand and reliever Mike Dunn.
Yu Darvish’s season-ending surgery left a rotation spot up for grabs and Hand would presumably enter the mix for that final spot. Hand has lived on the edge of replacement level during his young career but the former second-round pick can throw hard and started heavily mixing in his sinker in July last season, leading to a 56 percent groundball rate in the second half.
Dunn would give the Rangers a second quality left-handed relief option and a more traditional bullpen arm to complement the soft-tossing Alex Claudio. The Marlins reliever averages 95 mph with his heater and in recent seasons has essentially operated as a two-pitch guy, with a three-year trend of increased slider usage that culminated in a 41.7 percent rate in 2014. He’ll run into control issues every now and then but misses his share of bats, striking out at least a batter per inning in every season—including a 10.6 K/9 in 2014.
It’s not quite clear why the Marlins would want to shop Dunn though, given that they just inked him to a two-year deal in February and he’s their primary left-handed bullpen option. With the Marlins gearing up for a run at a wild card spot the Rangers would likely have to offer a piece in return that had immediate value.