A potential five-year deal to a second baseman already in his mid-30s might be the best long-term contract Ruben Amaro has ever handed out. That says a lot about both Amaro and his time at the helm of the Phillies, as well as about Chase Utley, the recipient of this half-decade extension.
Utley's extension is only for two years and $27 million total, but it also includes three vesting options. Normally, a vesting option -- especially one from Amaro or his patron saint of general managing, Omar Minaya -- is a scary proposition. These are well thought out, however, and should insure the Phillies against the collapse of Utley as he exits his mid-30s. In order for an option to vest, Utley needs to accumulate 500 plate appearances in the prior season, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. That process repeats itself in 2016 for the 2017 option, and in 2017 for the 2018 option.
Not bad, right? If Utley is on the field, he'll likely be productive, even if there's some decline as he ages: when you're as good as Utley has been, you have some room to negotiate a soft fall. If he's not on the field, and fails to hit the 500 plate appearance threshold of the upcoming vesting option, the next year becomes a club option in which the value is reduced to between $5 million to $11 million, based on how much time Utley spent injured in the previous season.
Here's where it works out fairly for both sides. Utley, even when he misses time, has been highly productive. Since his age-30 season back in 2009, Utley has amassed a 124 OPS+, and, according to Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement, nearly 19 wins. That's despite the fact he's only averaged 114 games from 2009 through 2012, and has already missed a bit of time this season. Utley has failed to reach the 500 plate appearance mark in every season since 2010, meaning there's a very good chance the Phillies will pick up his options when they revert to the cheaper club variety, and get to play the Chase Utley Health Lottery at a reduced price for a few years. You would prefer he's healthy and productive enough to pick up those 500 plate appearances, but all things considered, hoping on that happening at a lower price point is a pretty good consolation prize.
And hey, if he does manage to reach 500 plate appearances in each of those seasons, there's a very good chance that he'll be worth the bulk, if not all, of the $75 million that the deal pays out at its maximum: Utley has never been worth fewer than three wins since he became a full-time player back in 2005. It doesn't take a whole lot to be worth $16 million a year as a free agent -- three wins would just about get you there -- considering what budgets look like these days. Plus, the Phillies will easily be able to pay for that even with anchors like Ryan Howard on the roster thanks to what should be a lucrative new television deal that gets signed before the options become a concern.
Yes, second basemen age poorly, but Utley is already through the danger zone on that one, at least more so than many other keystoners before him have been. He's in his age-34 campaign, which is past or at the point most of those who came before gave up the dream of remaining productive, yet here he is, slugging over .500 for the first time since he was a wee lad of 30, and once again owning second base defensively like he invented the position. It could all fall apart next year -- stranger things have happened in this game -- but if it does, the options aren't going to be much of a concern anyway, and it's not like there are better 2014 alternatives lying around, anyway.
There's risk here, as there is with any extension that covers free agent years, but the Phillies have -- it's okay, you can say "miraculously" -- managed to minimize said risk and set themselves up with a pretty sweet deal that still works out well for their star second baseman. You can't ask for much more than that kind of give-and-take on an extension.