With Utley Trade, the Phillies Rebuilding Strategy Takes Another Step Forward


You could look at the Chase Utley trade as trading a franchise legend and fan favorite. If you do, you’re probably angry about the deal, and that’s understandable. He is both of those things, and it does feel a bit wrong how almost everyone is gone from 2008 now. There’s another way to view this trade though. Chase Utley is 36 years old, and has had a series of leg issues over the last five years. He’s a free agent to be, who had his worst year playing baseball probably ever to this point. A younger second baseman has played well in his absence, and you drafted a college aged second baseman in this year’s draft who you expect to arrive in a year or two. The Phillies are a last place team, and probably wouldn’t be good during Utley’s remaining baseball days.

Not all of that is without some objection or argument, I know. The truth is though, the moment to move on was here. The Phillies had very little leverage, between Utley’s 10-and-5 rights, and the fact that every team knew the Phillies would lose him for nothing in the off-season. The Phillies, in a different time, might have dealt him for a throwaway prospect, something to say they did something. They also might have kept him in a different time, citing his sentimental value to the fanbase. They did none of these things, appeased Utley’s desires as a loyal soldier to the team, and actually improved their own future in the process.

Darnell Sweeney and John Richy aren’t J.P. Crawford-level prospects, but both ranked in Los Angeles’ top 30 on MLBPipeline before they were dealt. Sweeney immediately slotted in at #11 on the Phillies rankings, and was called up immediately to be the new utility infielder for the remainder of 2015. Richy was a third round pick last year, and immediately slotted in at #30 on the rankings, and figures to report to Clearwater (if they even have space). Both have upside and may make it as major leaguers in Philadelphia. In other words, despite the Phillies tough situation to start this trade out from, they got not one, but two worthwhile prospects.

The Phillies aren’t doing this because other teams like them, they’re doing this because they are a rich franchise with a rich owner. Since Pat Gillick took over as team President in August of 2014, the Phillies have traded Roberto Hernandez, John Mayberry Jr., Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere, and Chase Utley. Between these trades, they netted 16 prospects (thought they gave the Pierre from the Mayberry deal back for cash). Tack on Odubel Herrera and two top 30 international prospect signings, and the Phillies have added on 18 prospects in one year of Gillick, outside of their 2015 draft class. The reason they’ve been able to do this is that they have leveraged their economic power, picking up salary in most of these trades to get the player they want. They will pay the remaining portion of Chase Utley’s 2015 salary to get this package, much as they ate money directly on Hamels, Revere, Papelbon, Rollins, and Byrd. Few franchises even want to pick up this much salary on trades like this. The Phillies not only did so, but front-loaded almost all of the salary they picked up into this season, limiting future luxury tax penalties resulting from “dead” salary. They ruthlessly used their financial strength to buy themselves out of a lack of young talent, and rebuild a top ten system in baseball in just one year.

Many people have attacked Pat Gillick this season for things as far back as in his GM tenure. They’ve even lumped him in with Ruben’s mistakes the past several years. For those of you watching the money though, it’s clear that the man operated with a plan as President of this club, and dramatically improved the odds on this rebuild, and possibly it’s speed too. The Phillies are in a much better position than a year ago, and frankly it’s because they finally had a sensible strategy, and used it.


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