Chase Utley is having a nice season. But (a) he’s 34; (b) his best baseball is certainly behind him, not in front of him; (c) his knees are ticking time bombs; and (d) the Phillies aren’t going anyplace and likely have to rebuild before they’re serious contenders again.
In light of all of that, you have to think that the best move is to try to trade Utley. He could really help a contender this year and, given what Matt Garza and even Francisco Rodriguez brought in trades, the Phillies could probably get a useful piece or two for him.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, however, thinks that the Phillies are working on a contract extension for Utley:
A person with knowledge of the situation says the Phillies have had recent talks with Utley’s representation about a contract extension … Word in well-placed baseball circles is that the Phillies are not listening to trade offers for Utley.
Maybe this is just about making him seem more valuable to Philly than he is in an effort to drive up the price. Maybe Ruben Amaro believes that the Phillies still can contend with an Utley-Howard-Rollins-Lee-Hamels core. If it’s the latter, well, OK, it’s your team Rube. But I kinda disagree with that assessment.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.
Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.
Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.