Phillies Notebook: Amaro: Utley not untouchable

ASSOCIATED PRESS Chase Utley hits solo home run over weekend at Dodger Stadium.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Chase Utley hits solo home run over weekend at Dodger Stadium.
Posted: July 02, 2013

LOS ANGELES - When the Phillies' team charter arrived in Pittsburgh late last night, the calendar turned to July, the most active month for in-season player movement.

Ruben Amaro Jr. has helped keep it that way. In his first four Julys as a general manager, he has added the likes of Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez and Hunter Pence, and he has traded away Shane Victorino and Pence.

As his team boarded the cross-country flight, Amaro was well aware of the Phillies' record (39-44), five games under .500, tying a season-low mark. And he also was aware that probably meant he would be viewed as more of a seller than a buyer.

But the question begged to be asked: If Amaro succumbs to full-blown seller status, would he consider trading one of the most popular players in franchise history?

"You mean like Utley?" Amaro said yesterday.

Chase Utley is a free agent after the season. And, like Victorino before him, a prime target to be traded if the Phillies are going nowhere this summer and don't plan to re-sign him.

And therein lies the rub: Are the Phils interested in re-signing Utley, or are they more inclined to maximize his hot bat and deal him in the next 4 weeks?

"I think I've expressed it to Chase and I've said it publicly, we feel like he's a Phillie for life," Amaro said. "My job, however, is to make sure the viability of the organization is the most important element. Even though he might be the most popular player, if there are things we have to do with some of these popular players that are going to make our club better, then we have to keep our minds open."

Utley turns 35 in December. Despite missing a month with a right oblique injury, Utley is in the midst of his most productive season since 2009.

Utley currently has a nine-game hitting streak. He is hitting .400 (12-for-30) with four home runs and two doubles in the first seven games of the current trip.

Utley has 11 homers this season, the same amount he totaled each of the last 2 years. The difference is that they're coming with more frequency this season: Utley has 11 home runs in 223 plate appearances this season; he hit 11 in 362 plate appearances in 2012, 11 in 454 plate appearances in 2011.

He entered yesterday with an .873 OPS; he hasn't finished a season with a higher OPS than that since 2009 (.905).

Utley would have obvious value to a contending team in need of a difference-making bat.

"I don't view him as a guy that we would move," Amaro said. "[But] I could never say never about anything."

Amaro wouldn't say if the team has engaged Utley's agent, Arn Tellem, in talks for a new contract.

Since Utley has missed significant time in the last two seasons with chronic knee pain, it's difficult to gauge what a fair contract would be for him - perhaps something similar to the 2-year, $26 million deal that Carlos Beltran, now 36, signed two winters ago with St. Louis.

"He's moving around great," Amaro said of Utley's knees and overall health. "Ideally, we'd like to keep him and have him be our second baseman until the end of his career. But we have to see how things play out."

Hamels' mental break

Cole Hamels has followed Kyle Kendrick in each of the last two turns of the Phillies' rotation and his turn was due up tomorrow, when the Phillies return from today's day off to take on the Pirates at PNC Park.

But pitching coach Rich Dubee instead shuffled the rotation in an attempt to give Hamels "a little [mental] cleansing." Jonathan Pettibone and John Lannan will pitch the first two games at Pittsburgh, with Hamels following in the series finale on Thursday.

"It's a breath of fresh air, time away from the game for a little while," Dubee said yesterday.

Hamels (2-11) leads the major leagues in losses.

He is the first Phillies player to reach double-digit losses before the All-Star break since Kyle Abbott in 1992. He's the first Phils pitcher to reach 11 losses before the month of July since 1937, when both Claude Passeau and Wayne LaMaster did so.

Dubee said Hamels, who made his last start on June 26 in San Diego, is healthy. He's giving Hamels a full week off as a mental break. "It's like the All-Star break helped Cliff [Lee] last year, to get away for 4 days," Dubee said. "It's a chance to get him away for a few extra days. He's fine."

After battling bad luck and low run support in the first 6 weeks of the season, Hamels has a 4.97 ERA in the last 6 weeks (nine starts). The Phils are 3-14 in Hamels' starts this season.

Hamels' Independence Day start will come against hotshot rookie righthander Gerrit Cole (4-0), who is the first Pittsburgh starter to win each of his first four starts since 1907.

Phils considered Puig

The Phillies needed a power-hitting, righthanded hitting outfielder last winter. They ended up with Delmon Young.

But over the last 4 days, they saw someone who could have been a far more intriguing option. Cuban import Yasiel Puig, 22, hit safely in all four games against the Phillies.

Puig went 4-for-5 with a double, a triple and two stolen bases yesterday. His 44 hits in his first major league month rank second all-time; only Joe DiMaggio (48 in May 1936) had more.

Puig, who hit a game-winning, two-run single in the seventh inning against the Phillies on Thursday, is hitting .436 with seven home runs through his first 26 major league games. The Dodgers signed Puig to a 7-year, $42 million deal last summer.

Amaro said the Phillies scouted Puig and had discussions about signing him but felt it was a risky proposition.

"We looked at him and had interesting conversations with their people," Amaro said. "But [the Dodgers] decided it was worth the risk to go and throw big-time money him. You hope those things work out."

Although Puig, at least through the first month, appears to have worked out and Oakland and Texas netted stars in Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish, Amaro mentioned several international signings that did not pan out, including Rey Ordonez, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kaz Matsui.

"It's a risk," Amaro said.

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