"We'll have to assess it as the deadline gets closer," he said. "We always have to look to improve the club. That's always the focus. How aggressively we do that, we'll have to see as we get closer to the 31st."
The Phillies have a number of players who would be attractive to contenders, starting with second baseman Chase Utley, who can become a free agent after the season. While the Phillies would be in line to claim a draft pick if they lost Utley to another team, the value of that selection pales in comparison to the young talent they would likely be able to acquire by trading the veteran. So you can argue that it would behoove them to explore a contract extension in advance of the deadline if they plan to make a concerted effort to re-sign him.
Amaro declined to say whether those types of conversations have taken place, but he did say he believes Utley still will be on the roster after the deadline.
It is hard to underestimate how much value Utley would have on the open market, where he and Robinson Cano are the only two middle-of-the-order bats who play the middle infield and are scheduled to be free agents. Just this offseason, 37-year-old Marco Scutaro signed for 3 years and $20 million with the Giants. Utley will be 35 next season and is currently hitting .283/.344/.515 with 13 home runs. Dustin Pedroia recently signed a contract extension that, on its back end, will pay him $40 million over the 3 years when he will be 35, 36 and 37 years old. Ian Kinsler will make $23 million for his 35-year-old and 36-year-old seasons. Kevin Youkilis signed a 1-year, $12 million deal for his 34-year-old season this year. So we can say that the going rate for a second/third baseman of Utley's ilk is around $13 million per season.
How does 3 years, $40 million sound?
While Utley is no longer the player who once seemed destined to win a Most Valuable Player award, he is still one of the most dangerous offensive second basemen in the game. Since the start of the 2011 season, only three players at the position have a better OPS than Utley's .804: Ben Zobrist (.813), Pedroia (.823) and Cano (.905). But those players all have something Utley doesn't: 1,700+ plate appearances during that stretch.
Which brings us to the multimillion-dollar question: Is an extension worth the risk, given his injury history?
Heading into last night's series finale in St. Louis, Utley had accumulated 1,114 plate appearances since the start of 2011, which ranked him 23rd among players who had started at least half of their games at second base. Utley has not played in more than 115 games since 2009, when he was 30 years old. He strained an oblique this season and tore a ligament in his thumb in 2010. But the biggest concern is the chronic knee condition that he has battled over the past 3 years. The soreness cost him the first 2 months of 2011 and the first 3 months of 2012. This season, Utley has not missed any games due to his knees, and his power production is back where it was during his heyday: 13 home runs and a .515 slugging percentage.
"He's held up real well," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Actually, since he came back from being on the DL, he's played about every game. He's played a lot."
But the oblique injury also saved a month of wear on his knees. In the 22 games before he went on the disabled list, he hit just .286/.326/.400 after posting a .308/.353/.551 line in his first 22 games of the season. Just the normal ups and downs of a major league season? Or a physical wearing down similar to the ones he experienced in both 2011 (.287/.383/.487 in his first 52 games, .232/.305/.365 in his last 51) and 2012 (.247/.360/.473 in his first 42 games, .265/.370/.384 in his last 41)?
It's an important question given the plethora of areas where the Phillies could use an extra $10 million to $15 million worth of talent. While Utley might be the best second baseman available in free agency (Cano is also a free agent, although it's hard to imagine any team outbidding the Yankees for their star), the Phillies easily could get by with a cheaper option like Omar Infante at second if it allows them to spend more on the outfield, where Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury are scheduled to be available.
Of all the decisions that loom for the Phillies, what to do with Utley is the trickiest.
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