Chase Utley and the perfect deal

Jim McIsaac

Picture Chase Utley in a Rangers uniform. A Tigers uniform. A Dodgers uniform. Remember how about 18 months ago, the default would have been "Marlins uniform"? Wild times, man. Wild times.

Point is, you can't picture any of that. There's a combination of "homegrown," "championship," and "long-tenured" that makes it impossible to picture certain players out of the uniform you're used to. Adrian Gonzalez? Wasn't homegrown, and there wasn't a championship. But Dustin Pedroia or Derek Jeter don't make the cut. Mentally picture them in each other's uniform. Not as some sort of Rule 34 thing, but as a way to imagine them switching teams. You can't. Picture Albert Pujols in anything but a Cardinals uniform.

Oh, right. But it was weird for a few minutes, right? That's how it is with Utley in anything other than a Phillies uniform. He has the pedigree, the history, and the confetti-flecked snapshots from years past. Which means when it comes to contract extensions into his mid-30s, Utley's case gets special consideration.

The deal, in case you missed it:

The Phillies are close to signing Utley to a two-year extension with multiple vesting options, according to major-league sources. The total guaranteed money in the deal will be in the "high 20s," one source said — between $25 million and $30 million.

CBS Sports reported that the base of the deal is two years, $27 million.

This is the perfect deal. It's perfect for the Phillies because of where the downside is, well, let's decision-tree it:

Screen_shot_2013-08-07_at_8


Or maybe that's a flowchart. Whatever, here are the four possibilities for Utley. Let's look for comps for each one.

Stays with Phillies, is good
This is the Derek Jeter path. Sorry if that roils your insides, but it's true. The Yankees have spent a lot of money making sure that Jeter stays a Yankee. And until last October, it worked out every year.

Stays with Phillies, is bad
This is the Paul Konerko path. He's not exactly homegrown, but he's a 15-year White Sock, and he's partially responsible for the first championship since 1917. He's kind of hot awful this season, but do you think the fans are even close to booing him? Heck, no. They're still buying jerseys with "14" on the back.

Leaves Phillies, is good
The Wade Boggs path. Oh, that image of him Lady Godiva-ing around Yankee Stadium on a horse still has to rankle Red Sox fans around the world. The success of the Red Sox since then helps some, but while Boggs was making good with their arch-rivals, they were futzing around with Scott Cooper, wondering how things came to that.

Leaves Phillies, is bad
The Edgardo Alfonzo path. He was a demigod with the Mets. He was a free-agent punchline with the Giants. I'm not sure the Mets would have been happier watching him decompose while paying him the money, but it must have been galling to see him so neglected.

Those are the options. Where's the downside? That Utley could be bad and could cause the Phillies to miss the playoffs by a game in each of the next two years? Uh, sure, but that's kind of a worst-case scenario, and it's fairly unrealistic. No, the real downside is mostly from a public-relations standpoint. Utley helping the Nationals to a pennant, for example. You're thinking about wins and losses, as you should. But it's other people's job to think about things like branding and legacy. And the Phillies don't want to be the team that lets the Nationals ride Utley's knees to a division title, or worse.

That written, the two-year deal minimizes the risk. Any fan base will turn on a player who underperforms for five or six years on a big deal. But no one's going to begrudge the Phillies for a bad deal if this doesn't work out. It's Chase Utley.

Oh, and he's still pretty good, even with the oatmeal knees. In his most injury-riddled season, Utley has been worth at least three wins. He does everything well, and his baserunning acumen nicely balances his diminished speed. He still hits for power, and he still shows good bat control. So what if he's going to be a 35-year-old second baseman with knee problems? Besides the obvious.

Look, Amaro was just going to screw up the money anyway. So let Utley stay a Phillie, and may they sink or swim together. It beats them sinking or swimming apart. Plus, it would just be weird.

Note: As I was writing this, apparently Utley murdered Dioner Navarro in the leg. Not cool, man. I take this all back.

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