The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has retired seven numbers in its history. Only one, however, Michael Jack Schmidt, played his entire career in the City of Brotherly Love. Chase Utley will one day have his number retired by the Phillies, but will he join Schmidt as only the second lifelong-Phillie to receive the honor?
It is no secret that the Phillies are holding a blowout clearance sale as their rebuilding process drags on. Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Jonathan Papelbon will all likely end the 2015 season donning the uniform of a different team. There has not been much trade chatter, however, surrounding Utley. The Phillies all-time leader at second base in every major offensive category had not shown any real interest in leaving Philadelphia.
Until this week.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported that Utley may be wavering on his desire to remain in Philadelphia. Utley is a California native and is reportedly interested in returning to Southern California should such a trade be placed on the table. As the Phillies sit at 6-12 with the fewest runs scored and the lowest batting average in all of Major League Baseball, perhaps Utley has seen enough. Who could blame the 36-year-old Utley for wanting to play out the last few seasons of his career on a team with a chance to score more than three runs a game?
Utley’s status as an all-time great Phillie was cemented years ago. He will remain a beloved figure in the city for as long as he lives. His hard-charging style of play resonates with the blue-collar Philadelphia mentality, and he will always be seen as the player who delivered the 2008 World Series title. Utley is a franchise icon who will go down as the greatest second baseman in the long history of Philadelphia baseball.
Here’s the thing, though. Utley is not worth much on the trade market. His batting average currently sits at .125. Utley’s lower body has gradually deteriorated over the years, and at 36 years old, he is a shell of the player who won four consecutive Silver Sluggers from 2006 to 2009. At best, Utley would likely return a B or C-level minor leaguer and some salary relief.
That would not sit too well with an already disgruntled Philadelphia fan base. Such a trade would be akin to the Baltimore Orioles dumping Cal Ripken Jr. towards the end of his career. Yes, Ripken was not part of the Orioles’ long term plans the last few years of his career, and the team was awful. But, an iconic player like Ripken or Utley still holds value to a rebuilding franchise.
There is something to a player spending his entire career with one team, in my opinion. Very few players do it these days. I believe the Phillies’ front office understands the intrinsic value Utley brings to the franchise beyond a box score. Chase Utley is a beloved figure in the city of Philadelphia. The Phillies have already traded away Jimmy Rollins. If Hamels and Howard go, that leaves only Utley and Carlos Ruiz as members of the 2008 team on the roster. As the rebuilding process continues, the Phillies cannot afford to completely sever ties with that World Series winning team. Of the players on that team, Utley is far and away the most beloved in the city.
Chase Utley will never play on a winning team again in Philadelphia, but he can serve as a bridge between one winning era and the next. Utley should go down in history as a career Phillie. His legacy, and the franchise will be better served by only wearing one cap for his Major League career. On the day that Utley’s number 26 Phillies jersey is retired, it should be the only jersey he has ever worn.
Follow Josh Sadlock on Twitter @JoshSadlock.