Can the Phillies trade Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins?

Jimmy Rollins acknowledges fans at Citizens Bank Park after Saturday's game, in which he ripped his 2,235th hit, setting the franchise record.
Jimmy Rollins acknowledges fans at Citizens Bank Park after Saturday's game, in which he ripped his 2,235th hit, setting the franchise record. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2014

There was a break between innings during a recent Phillies loss, and David Montgomery looked toward second base from the owner's suite at Citizens Bank Park. That is Chase Utley's spot; it was his when this sparkling ballpark opened, and when the Phillies signed Utley to a two-year contract last summer with three option years, Montgomery imagined it was Utley's until he relinquished it.

Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins have started 1,129 games together, the most of all active double-play combinations. Rollins is the team's all-time hits leader. They are two of the most recognizable athletes in Philadelphia sports history.

That offers a certain unquantifiable value that Montgomery treasures. It is why the idea of trading either player this summer is complicated. It is why Montgomery stares at second base - Utley's home - when he contemplates a divorce with two Phillies icons.

"Is that something we are prepared to do? If that's the best thing for us, of course. Of course," Montgomery said. "The way he plays the game and everything, I'd love for him to to be wearing that uniform 20 years from now in some capacity.

"Jimmy will be in music, or who knows what? But Chase is a baseball guy. I'd want Chase thinking along with us how to improve this place for the next 10 years. He brings a lot to the table."

Both Utley and Rollins control their fates, no matter Montgomery's and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s intentions. They earned full no-trade rights by spending 10 years in the majors and five with the same team.

Many contending teams have middle-infield holes. Detroit craves a stable presence at shortstop. San Francisco and Oakland could view Utley - a Sausalito, Calif., resident - as the final piece for a World Series quest. Baltimore and Toronto have lacked production at second. How about Utley in Cardinals red, or Rollins as a Milwaukee Brewer?

Rollins, after surpassing Mike Schmidt on Saturday as the 132-year-old franchise's hit king, softened his stance on accepting a possible trade.

"It really depends if everything is blown up," Rollins said, referring to a possible fire sale. "Then, you take that into consideration. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about that right now. But if that time does come, and it's time to go . . . people move on."

Montgomery, for a moment, considered that possibility.

"We're not so stubborn and blocked in our thinking that we won't do X," Montgomery said. "Was it exciting to have Jimmy get all those hits for this franchise? Was it exciting when you have players like Schmidt and Rollins, who played their whole careers in one place? I think it's exciting, and I think it's exciting for fans. But it doesn't happen much anymore."

There are layers to the situation. The Phillies do not possess instant replacements at either position. J.P. Crawford is adored by scouts and executives, but the 19-year-old prospect needs seasoning. Cesar Hernandez's future is unclear. Freddy Galvis has struggled with the bat and has failed to stay healthy.

Then, what sort of package could the Phillies get for Utley or Rollins in a trade? Rollins is 146 plate appearances from triggering a guaranteed $11 million salary for 2015. If Utley avoids a knee injury that sends him to the disabled list this season, his 2015 salary jumps from $10 million to $15 million.

Both players are productive, albeit at an advanced age. And Utley's knees, while healthy for a prolonged period, will always prompt questions.

The Phillies could decide Utley and Rollins offer them more value than any potential return.

"We don't like being in last place in the National League East," Montgomery said. "We don't think that's where we belong. We don't think that's what our fans expect of us.

"In some places, they do that intentionally in order to speed the process. But, at the same time, there has to be the types of deals [beneficial to us]. I mean, I listen to the expectations of people of what we can get for our veterans.

"For another year or two of a solid veteran player, somebody is going to give us what? And take the salary to what extent? So realism, for us, creeps into the picture."

The Phillies have averaged 8,539 fewer fans per game in their first 37 home dates. That is more than double the next closest decline, in Toronto.

So, the fans and stadium seats - empty or filled - could help determine the on-field product.

"Does it cause you to say, 'We just don't want to play all young kids and get rid of everybody for fear we win 60 games'?" Montgomery said. "Yeah, that's a factor."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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