Inside the Phillies: Amaro walking creaky 'bridge' with Utley

By extending Chase Utley's pact, the GM hopes the aging infielder can help guide younger players. Staff
By extending Chase Utley's pact, the GM hopes the aging infielder can help guide younger players. Staff
Posted: August 10, 2013

Not everybody shares Ruben Amaro Jr.'s vision.

"Maybe I'm delusional, but I believe our club is a much better club," the Phillies general manager said shortly after exchanging a hearty handshake with Chase Utley, the team's second baseman of the past, present, and possibly distant future.

Utley signed a two-year contract extension worth $27 million that includes three vesting options. It's possible that Utley could be in a Phillies uniform through 2018, when he'll be 39 years old and the team will be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the franchise's second world (expletive) championship.

You wouldn't be wrong if you thought Amaro was delusional. Even after the Phillies' 12-1 rout of the Chicago Cubs on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, they were still 10 games under .500, still behind the New York Mets in fourth place in the National League East, and still headed straight down the road to nowhere this season.

If Amaro meant his club is much better than the Miami Marlins, he'd be right, but the Phillies are also considerably closer to the division's last-place team than they are to the first-place Atlanta Braves. That, of course, wasn't what he meant anyway.

"The team is under .500 for a variety of reasons," Amaro said. "One is we just didn't get production of the players who are sitting on the DL right now. That hurt us. I believe we were a contending-level team if we had Ryan Howard and he was on the field. And then we lost Domonic [Brown] at a pretty critical time for us. I still believe we are a contending team with those guys on the field."

That statement conveniently omits the fact that the Phillies have never been more than a game above .500 this season and that injuries have been a major issue for the last two years with this aging team.

Amaro, however, has a vision and it includes moving forward with at least the core trio of Howard, Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. That vision also includes Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the starting rotation and a third attempt at revamping the bullpen.

Don't rule out the possibility of catcher Carlos Ruiz remaining part of the core four either, especially since he's likely to be available at a discounted price.

"I see these guys as the bridge to kind of the next core group of players that are coming through here," Amaro said. "Having Chase, Jimmy, Ryan . . . these are the type of people I want our young players to emulate. This is the type of player, particularly in Chase's case, I want Cody Asche to watch."

A bridge is a nice metaphor for the Phillies right now. On one side of that bridge you have Asche and Darin Ruf, two young players who the team thinks can make an impact as soon as next season. To their credit, they've given the Phillies every reason to think that, and they did again Thursday by combining for five hits and four RBIs. On the other side of the bridge, you have the aging veterans.

The problem is that you don't know if the young guys are ever going to become the kind of superstar players that Utley, Rollins, and Howard were when the team won five straight division titles. The other problem is that you don't know if the aging stars can remain healthy and productive into the future.

Utley obviously convinced the Phillies that his creaky knees will remain intact for at least two more seasons and, conversely, the Phillies convinced their second baseman that they will be much better in 2014 than they have been through 114 games this season.

"That was one of my initial questions," Utley said. "I wanted to know where we're at. [Amaro] laid it out for me. He said we want to win. We're going to do what we need to do to win. I've known Ruben a long time. We have a good relationship. We trust each other."

The news conference with Utley was certainly a milestone in one respect. There will not be another huge contract extension for any of the core veterans who led the Phillies to the second great era in the franchise's 130-year history.

It might be delusional, however, to think that the third great era is just on the other side of the bridge.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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