Last day of June and MLB teams are roughly half-way through their schedule, so the time has come for hard decisions about whether your team is competing or rebuilding (hopefully not caught in the dreaded middle ground).
There has been much discussion about the Phillies – they’re 8.5 out in the NL East behind both the Braves and Nationals and I can see little chance to compete. Combined with an aging roster, the decision to sell should be straightforward, and they do have a number of pieces (Cliff Lee, Michael Young, Chase Utley) that will draw interest before the July 31st trade deadline.
Utley has been one of the best players in baseball for nearly a decade – durability being his only Achilles heel. This year Utley has had one DL stint, but in 53 games he has hit 284/350/532, good for a wRC+ of 140 and has played characteristically stellar defense at 2B – good for 2.3 WAR overall. Of course, Utley is also 34 (turning 35 in December) and has a degenerative knee conditions that has limited him to 240 games over the past 2.5 seasons.
Turning to Utley’s contract, he is owed about $7.5M more in 2013 before becoming a free agent this off season. I had actually thought Utley was a 10/5 guy (which would afford him full no trade rights), but he’s not quite at 10 years service time, so his no trade rights are limited to 21 clubs. I can’t find a list, but we can presume it is most of the high revenue teams and then a few others.
There are a few teams for whom Utley is a perfect fit. Oakland’s 2B have produced a 689 OPS and poor defensive numbers at 2B. The Orioles have been even worse, posting a 644 number – though today they get Brian Roberts back, another productive but older and injury prone 2B.
Enter the KC Royals. This morning brings a snippet from the Boston Globe that the Royals are kicking the tires on Utley. Yesterday, the Royals finally excited their esteemed sports writing fan community by cutting Jeff Francoeur and calling up Johnny Giovatella to play 2B every day. (Not that Giovatella is a savior – but he turns 25 next week and the triumvirate of Chris Getz, Elliott Johnson and Miguel Tejada simply isn’t any kind of answer).
Even assuming that the Royals (a) don’t mind taking on the $7.5M Utley is owed, and (b) are talking about sending uninteresting prospects to the Phillies in exchange, the trade still makes no sense. [And given the needs of contenders at 2B, along with Utley’s expiring contract, I cannot believe that the Phillies won’t be able to coax at least some mildly interesting players out of a team] You’ve got 80 games to find out whether Giovatella is in your future plans – the Utley trade would defer that another season for little to no reason. Year to date, the Royals 5 rotation has started all but 1 game on the season. James Shields has ben excellent as usual; Ervin Santana has been unexpectedly good. Beyond that, Wade Davis has been bad, Jeremy Guthrie worse and Luis Mendoza somewhere in between. That is not a playoff rotation in 2013.
Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy are rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year and the hope is they will be ready to assume rotation spots in 2014. Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura are waiting in the wings (though Ventura is slightly closer to the majors than Zimmer, and both have some command issues to sort through). Add to this that they are in the same division as perhaps the AL’s best team (Detroit) and it all adds to a strong focus on 2014. Giving up prospects for a 3 month rental for a non-contender makes no sense. Burying your potential 2014 starting 2B behind said rental makes no sense.