Now is the time for Phillies to trade Utley

CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 03, 2013

The Phillies' individual record for appearances in a postseason game is 46, and it is jointly held by five players. You probably know their names.

In the five-season span during which that record was set by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino, the Phillies enjoyed their greatest sustained success in franchise history and ensured those five position players would be regarded as something special when compared to others who arrived and departed without providing quite the same results.

Disassembling that group when the time came wasn't going to be an easy job for management. Aside from Victorino, who was sent off last season, the four homegrown players had to be treated carefully, and maybe none more carefully than Utley, the taciturn second baseman whose fans were a lot more vocal than he was over the years.

As general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. approaches what is expected to be a significant retooling for the future in the next month, he looks at those four legacy players and, for various reasons, finds that Utley is the one he is likeliest to trade.

Like the 76ers, who took their most marketable talent and traded it for a brighter future, the Phillies almost certainly will do the same thing. Unlike the Sixers, the Phils have more than just one guy to trade, but moving Utley - and, actually, moving him right now - is beginning to seem inevitable.

Utley has come back both from his knee issues and, more recently, from an oblique strain, to play very productively for the Phils since coming off the disabled list 11 days ago. Going into Tuesday's game at Pittsburgh, he was batting .368 during a nine-game hitting streak, with four home runs, two doubles, and 12 runs scored. Utley, who will be 35 in December, is not the same player he once was, but he would be a handy piece for any team with a need at second base that hopes to make a serious playoff push.

Amaro has walked a pragmatic line between expressing the preference that Utley finish his career in Philadelphia and the need to get the team in better shape for the coming seasons. He said there are no "untouchables," which is standard GM speak, but in this case it's probably true.

Utley will be a free agent after this season and would most likely be a rental for a team that gives up some prospects to acquire him. It could be that Utley knows how much longer he would like to play, although that isn't the kind of information he shares. You'd have better luck getting the Da Vinci Code than getting that out of Utley. He does like to win, though.

Regardless, he can veto a trade to any of 21 teams on a list he submits, but he is still just shy of the 10 years of major-league service that would give him total no-trade rights. Guessing the teams on Utley's list is nothing more than that, but it would be surprising if he didn't agree to a trade with the Oakland Athletics, an almost perfect partner for the Phils.

Utley's offseason home is in San Francisco, and there has been speculation that the Giants - still within easy shooting distance of the NL West title - would take a run at adding Utley's production and his leadership. That would make a lot more sense, however, if the Giants didn't have Marco Scutaro hitting .319 at second. Scutaro is 37, but he's also signed through 2015. Moving all that around, and giving up prospects to boot, seems like a lot to do just for the short-term addition of Utley.

Across the bay, however, there is a team that is leading the wild-card race in the AL, is just a half-game out of first place in its division, and is getting only middling results from its second baseman, Eric Sogard, and not much more from its lefthanded designated hitter, Seth Smith.

It would be almost against type for the Athletics to trade young talent for a rental, but Oakland is in position to really go for it this postseason, and maybe Billy Beane is tired of hearing that Moneyball has never won anything. That's a lot of maybes, although you can be sure that both Beane and Amaro have looked at this carefully.

Two years ago, this would not have been the case, but it is unlikely there would be significant fan backlash in Philadelphia if Utley were traded now. Most fans recognize that the page has to be turned, and though Utley might have been the most popular figure on that previous page, once it is turned you can't see it, anyway.

Still, it has been a long time, and there's no comparing the Sixers' trading Jrue Holiday with the Phillies' trading Utley. Both moves would be for the future, but Utley was the one with a significant past here. (He was drafted by the organization in 2000, when Holiday, an eventual fellow UCLA star, was 10 years old.)

Teams do what they have to do, however. When you look at it carefully, the Phillies almost have to trade Utley. It just makes sense. The sooner they do it, the better they can make out in the deal. A three-month rental costs more than a two-month rental, meaning that waiting for the non-waiver trade deadline doesn't really benefit the Phillies.

So, if it happens, it could be any day. It could be tomorrow. And just like that, a whole lot of yesterdays will disappear. He might not even say good-bye. He might just nod.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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