August is never too late to make a fix if you’re a contender in need, so the news that there’s a possibility of a waivers deal in which the Philadelphia Phillies would send Chase Utley to the San Francisco Giants should come as no surprise. Perhaps the key here is whatever it might be that Utley wants for himself. He has full no-trade protection, so any deal has to meet with his approval, and beyond any financial considerations, there’s the big-picture decision about whether or not he wants to finish his career as a Phillie or maybe on the field in October.
So starting from there, what are some of the major questions associated with potentially seeing one of the defining great players of the Phillies’ mini-dynasty move to the defending world champs?
Does he want to finish his career as a Phillie? That’s for him to say, now and later. But as a guy with full no-trade protection, it’s really first a question of whether he’s willing to move now and then whether he might want to subsequently return to Philadelphia. But as a native Californian and a former UCLA star, a move to the West Coast could be what he wants at the tail end of his career.
Could this really be it for him? He’s 36 years old and is dealing with his first and only bad year at the plate, and he has only just returned from a six-week stint on the DL for an ankle injury that has been troubling him since he sustained it back in January during offseason workouts. Again, this is perhaps more Utley’s call than anyone else’s. He certainly doesn’t have anything to prove, producing the most value among second basemen since his debut in 2003 with 60.9 WAR, leading everyone at the position in homers (232), walks (624) and defense-only WAR of 17.0. If his ankle is sufficiently healed to give him a shot at any of that power, patience or defense, he can help a contender.
Is money a factor? Always, but in Utley’s case, it’s a little more complicated because he could be a free agent after this season if he doesn’t pull his own plug. That’s because his options for 2016 through 2018 vest with playing time. But because of the time spent on the DL this season, he won’t reach 500 plate appearances this year. The value of the team’s option on him for 2016 is scaled somewhere between $5 million and $11 million for how much time he does play, otherwise it would have to be bought out for $2 million. So, even allowing for the possibility that the Giants can give the Phillies something to make them happy, they also have to sort out how Utley’s contract plays out for them subsequently. If Utley uses this situation to lock in a contract for 2016 -- obviously, in case he wants to skip retiring for the time being -- that’s just smart of him. But it's the financial side of things plus Utley's control over the situation that limits what the Phillies should expect to get back in any deal.
Do the Giants even need Utley? Right now? Sure, because Joe Panik is on the DL with lower back inflammation and they’re playing Ehire Adrianza and Kelby Tomlinson in the meantime, and they’ve gone 6-8 in the games those two have started. But with Panik probably due back at the end of the month, this would be as much an insurance move as an immediate improvement.
Where would Utley fit in with the Giants beyond Panik’s return? Utley has played almost his entire pro career at second base, but he’s played elsewhere -- 24 starts at first base in the majors, a full season at third base in the minors, and he was initially a shortstop going as far back as high school. If he’s healthy and willing, there are other spots Utley could help out at once Panik returns, especially in left field. Nori Aoki has only been healthy enough to make 12 starts since June 20, and he’s on the DL again recovering from concussion symptoms. With Gregor Blanco having to play center field while Angel Pagan is on the DL, the Giants are desperately short-handed in the outfield. Plus Utley could probably spot-start at first, second and third as needed after Panik returns.
Are the Giants even the best place for Utley to decide to go? Maybe not, because Utley would also be a great fix for another California contender, the Angels. The Halos have made an honest effort of getting by with Johnny Giavotella, but haven’t seen much of a payoff for that investment in the former Royals prospect at the plate (.672 OPS) or in the field (minus-13 defensive runs saved). He’s 28 years old, and while he’s had a hot week, if it hasn’t happened yet, it probably isn't going to. While the Angels aren’t the defending champs, there’s a greater likelihood that Utley could contribute to them now and next season at the position he’s been defined by: second base.
But having played against the Giants his entire career, you could forgive Utley some curiosity about coming over and seeing how the game’s reigning dynasty rolls. Given the organization’s reputation as a great landing spot for great players at the end of their careers, you couldn’t blame Utley if he chose the Bay Area over SoCal.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.