Chase Utley No Longer Phillies’ Starting Second Baseman

GM Ruben Amaro says when Chase Utley returns from the disabled list, Cesar Hernandez will remain the Phillies' starting second baseman.


Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley (26) sits in the dugout before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.


Chase Utley went on the disabled list with an ankle injury last month. He’s not expected to return to the lineup until at least after the All-Star Break, and probably more like a month from now.

And when he comes back, he won’t be the Phillies’ starting second baseman. Ruben Amaro said last night that when Utley returns from the DL, he won’t be guaranteed a starting spot.

“I would assume that Cesar will be our second baseman,” Amaro told reporters. “Chase’s situation will kind of dictate itself, how he feels. There’ll be time for him to play, I think. He could play some first base. He could play some second. But as far as I’m concerned, just like what our plan has been for a long, long time, that’s to give opportunities to young men who could be part of our future. Cesar Hernandez has been one of our best players on the field right now in a variety of ways.”

Hernandez has hit .301 this season, by far the best of his three-year major league career. Since Utley went on the DL on June 24th, Hernandez has hit .426 with a .965 OPS in place of the Phillies best second baseman of all time. He hasn’t hit much for power, but has a WAR of 0.8 this year per Baseball-Reference. Utley’s WAR this year is -1.3.

Utley was typically tight-lipped when asked about the demotion. “Well, I think Cesar has done a really good job,” he told reporters last night. “There you go.”

Utley was taken with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the Phillies. He rose through the minors quickly — skipping Reading, the Phillies AA affiliate — and first came up to the majors in 2003. His first major league hit, at Veterans Stadium on April 24th of that year, was a grand slam.

His first full season was in 2005. He was fantastic, hitting .291 with 28 homers and finishing 13th in the MVP voting. He began a string of five straight All-Star Game appearances in 2006, a year where he led the league in runs. He led the team in WAR from 2005 to 2009 — yes, even in Ryan Howard‘s and Jimmy Rollins‘ MVP seasons.

Utley seemed less like a baseball player than a robot specifically programmed to play baseball in the way Philadelphia fans like it to be played. His nickname, “The Man,” comes from a Harry Kalas call when Utley scored from second on a Howard groundout.

Once, I remember Utley taking second on what should have been a single, turning it into a double. He put his hands on his hips and smirked while looking off into the distance as if to say, “My programming allowed me to achieve this superior result.” In contrast to players like Rollins, Howard and Jayson Werth — remember that time he scared a kid and his father half to death? — Utley showed little emotion on the field.

His hard-nosed play also seemed to get him injured, however. He played just 132 games in 2007, 115 in 2010, 83 in 2012 and 131 in 2013. This year, he had an injured ankle for the first few months of the year and hit just .179. This is actually an improvement; early in the season, he was hovering around .100.

Hernandez’s recent hot stretch is perhaps an aberration, as he’s hitting line drives at a rate that’s likely unsustainable. He doesn’t hit for power.

But no matter. Chase Utley has a $15 million option next season that vests if he hits 500 plate appearances. The Phillies aren’t going to risk bringing him back to start and having him hit that magic number. (He’s now at 249, so it’s unlikely he’ll reach it either way.) If the option doesn’t vest, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Phillies have a club option valued between $5 and $11 million (determined by the number of days on the DL). Would the Phillies actually pick that up? It seems unlikely.

Yes, this could be Utley’s final season with the Phillies. It’s been an amazing run for Utley and the Phils, but it seems like it has reached its conclusion after this season.

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