By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Columnist -
Chase Utley is on the market!
The Angels have been hinted as showing interest!
What could possibly be holding us back from this blockbuster move?
Actually nothing should be!
From a past performance history and contractual point of view there should be little hesitation by the Angels to acquire Chase Utley and let me explain why.
So it’s no secret that Utley has been injured for a large portion of this year.
In fact from April 6th to June 22nd, across 249 plate appearances, he has produced a meager .179/.257/.275 slash line split pretty evenly against both sides of the mound.
This is a far cry from his full 2014 season where he produced a .270/.339/.407 slash line with quality defense, good for an overall wRC+ of 106 (94 vs. LHP, 112 vs. RHP) and 4.5 WAR, per FanGraphs.
Clearly the drop off on a year by year basis is wildly out of whack which brings us back to the ankle injury.
In the handful of games back off of the disabled list has he shown signs of recovery?
The answer is, in a very limited sample size of 18 plate appearances, yes.
Chase, in those short five games, has produced a .412/.389/.588 slash line.
Now clearly his .438 BABIP has something to do with that but it is obvious he is feeling a bit better.
But how much better?
ZiPS sees him producing a .242/.313/.383 slash line the remainder of the season, good for a wRC+ 90. Steamer and Depth Charts see slightly better production but they are pretty much in line with ZiPS.
Johnny Giavotella has almost a nearly identical ZiPS projection but the primary difference is that Utley performs better against RHP whereas Giavotella does better against LHP.
Additionally Utley has a career OBP of .366 vs. LHP and .365 vs. RHP, although in recent years he has tailed off a bit against LHP. In contrast Giavotella has career OBP’s that are below league average against both sides of the mound, although he has improved vs. LHP’s this year with a .350 OBP.
So where does this leave the Angels?
It would seem wise to take a gamble on Utley. He has a past history of offensive and defensive excellence even as recently as last season. Although he doesn’t hit LHP as well as he used too, he still does well against RHP which is what he would face approximately 70% of the time.
A platoon of Utley and Giavotella at 2B would bring out the best in both players. Chase would get a large number of regular plate appearances and would be a solid bat off the bench and a late game defensive replacement on those days Johnny starts.
Johnny with his .350 OBP vs. LHP and Utley with a recent past history of approximately .345 OBP vs. RHP could combine to be the Voltron of 2B platoons.
Additionally, when Freese returns, Utley could possibly split some time at 3B as he certainly has the arm for the hot corner and his quality defense could be a plus over David. He could also provide insurance in case Freese’s injury lingers on longer than expected.
Chase’s contract, according to COTS, will pay him approximately $4.5MM for the remainder of this season. He has no-trade protection that he would have to waive in order to be moved to another team.
Utley has three, optional, vestment years that could potentially extend his contract through 2018. However these option years only vest (guaranteed) if Chase has at least 500 plate appearances in the previous season.
Clearly he will not meet that goal this year as he only projects to get to approximately 400 plate appearances.
What that means, according to COTS, is that instead of the option years vesting they become club options valued between $5MM-$11MM based on days on the disabled list in the previous season.
Additionally in 2016 there is a buyout option for the controlling team of $2MM to get out of the contract.
Without the actual contract in front of me to read, COTS is saying that Utley’s 2016 season option will be worth approximately $12.8MM and is a club option with a $2MM buyout.
Based on his 2012-2014 seasons it would be conservative and reasonable to assume that Utley, in a full 2016 season, would likely produce close to 3 WAR. That is probably worth $20MM-$30MM on the free agent market.
Continuing further down the WAR rabbit hole if you believe that Chase produces 2.5 and 2 WAR in 2017 and 2018 respectively over a full season of plate appearances (thus paying him the full $15MM each season) you’re still seeing at least a breakeven, if not positive, return on investment.
The bottom line is that if the Angels can acquire Utley it would add a veteran left-handed hitter who brings a sterling reputation to the clubhouse and the pedigree of a championship player to a currently deflated team.
More importantly it would likely reinvigorate Chase to be in another pennant race and help balance out the team offensively and perhaps most importantly defensively at the keystone (and perhaps even the hot corner).
The risk here isn’t high. If Utley gets injured again and misses enough time to not receive 500 plate appearances his option year in the following season is a club option which means the Angels can simply not pick it up.
On the flip side if he does produce, like he is capable of, the Angels won’t mind paying $15MM for a veteran left-handed hitter with average to above average defense at the keystone.
This is a win-win scenario in acquiring Utley with the only real price and big question mark being: What would we have to give up to acquire him?
There are more teams than just the Angels interested in Chase’s services including the Giants, Yankees, and the Cubs.
The Giants lost Panik for a while but when he returns Utley is likely to see significantly less playing time. The Yankees have had a black hole at 2B all year. Chase will likely have a similar situation to what the Angels can offer him if he were to go to the Cubs.
Chase cleared waivers so teams clearly didn’t want to just pick up his contract which personally I think was an error in judgement if my interpretation of COTS is true as the risk of having to pay out those option years is low and even if he does vest that means he’s healthy and producing reasonable numbers.
At this point if the Angels offered to absorb some of his remaining contract and give up one or two mid-tier prospects it might get the job done. Alternatively the Phillies might want to absorb his contract this year (and maybe some from next year) and get a higher quality prospect or two back.
A package of RP Michael Brady and SP Ryan Etsell might get it done. If the Phillies absorb more salary then SP Nate Smith or SP Tyler Deloach might be in play instead.
Besides the opportunity to receive fairly regular playing time, the chance to play with Mike Trout might be enticing enough for Utley to waive his no-trade protection and help the Angels make a playoff run.