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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where Does Chase Utley Land after This Season? (Hint: Not in Philadelphia)

Sure, he has the $4 million or so penthouse in an exclusive building in Center City Philadelphia.  And, yes, he's an icon in the city despite his missing two of the last three season openers, chunks of the last two seasons and at best had a misunderstanding with the Phillies as to his availability at the outset of the 2012 season and at worst misrepresented his health.  This year, he's off to a good start, he's a gamer, and, when healthy, a very good player. 

But will he return to Philadelphia after this season?

Those who argue "yes" will argue that he loves the team and the city and that the Phillies cannot afford to let him go.  One caller on sports talk radio at mid-day suggested that the Phillies should learn from the Eagles and not let their version of Brian Dawkins go when he still can be productive. 

I am not in that camp.

Yet, I also am not in the camp that suggests that he'll go to the highest bidder, either.  Remember, when he signed his 7-year, $84 million dollar deal six years ago, he took less money than he could have gotten had he negotiated more aggressively or waited.  He just wanted to get a good deal done.  When he signed that deal I figured, then, that the Phillies would have a very tough sign on their hands after the 2013 season because Utley then looked like he was en route to Cooperstown.  Now, because of the injuries, he's headed to the town that hosts very good players and those but for injury might have garnered serious mention for the Hall of Fame.

Utley likes to win, won't go to be the "final piece" on a team that is too many players short to win.  I could see him going to Los Angeles (he's from Long Beach) and being a veteran leader on a team that is closer to winning a title than the Phillies, and, perhaps, much closer (although laden with some awful contracts that the Red Sox were none too happy to shed).  Better yet, I think he'll end up in San Francisco, being a senior leader on a team with Buster Posey and a killer pitching staff, a GM who knows how to piece together a team and a manager who might be headed for Cooperstown.  That said, the Giants aren't huge spenders on the free-agent market, with their most recent forays having crashed and burned (Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand).  They'd rather pick up someone' just-missed, also ran, like Rickie Weeks, and put him out there.  After all, most players look more forboding wearing the Giants' orange and black.  Still, Brian Sabean probably could get Utley for three years and a club option for a fourth, probably at about $7.5-$10 million per (given the health risk).  That's not a huge risk for a team built to win, seemingly, endlessly.

I posited a few questions years ago in these pages.  First, would you have expected Pat Burrell to win 2 World Series rings before any of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard?  Second, in 2008, if you asked which franchise would have been most likely to win 2 World Series by 2013, would you have picked the Giants over the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and Cardinals, among others? 

What's very amusing is that Billy Beane has GM Titan status in baseball because of Moneyball, with zero championships to show for it.  Sure, he adopted all sorts of stats, but at the end of the day, the A's are a neat story, but that's about it.  No one has written a book about whatever ball Brian Sabean has figured out, and all he's done is won 2 of the last 3 World Series, relying upon spare parts and patches more than rehauling the machine with the latest of big-name engines.  What player wouldn't want to be a part of that? 

Chase Utley doesn't seem to be about the money.  He's a California guy.  There are plenty of "In 'N Out" Burger joints in SF, as there are "Super Duper" burger joints.  He also likes guys who bring it, a team with energy.  AT&T Park has the energy that Citizen Bank Park has shown. 

Taken together, all of these factors suggest that while it's romantic to spend your entire career in one city, it's much more fun to spend it playing for championship contenders. 

Chase Utley will have a much better chance of contending for a title in Los Angeles or San Francisco.  The thought of his wearing the same uniform that Willie Mays and Willie McCovey did could be more enticing than staying with a Phillies' team that will struggle to win more than half its games for the rest of his career. 

Even if he likes Philadelphia, Chase Utley always can return to visit and eat at Iron Chef Jose Garces' restaurants and hit balls into the right-field seats.

The bet here is that he'll continue to hit those shots. . . but as a San Francisco Giant.

And he'll help them win yet another World Series.

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