The Phillies will walk into Spring Training with quite a few interesting contracts remaining on their payroll. You have Ryan Howard’s $60 million guaranteed that appears to be unmovable. $94 million left on Cole Hamels’ contract that is always in the midst of a new trade rumor. Dare we forget that the Phillies are paying Jonathan Papelbon $13 million this year to close out games for a projected last place team, which becomes $26 million and another guaranteed year should he finish out 48 games this season. Out of all of the 2015 contracts, the one that has the potential to be most intriguing is the starting second baseman’s. This leads us to the #7 reason to watch this season: Chase Utley.
On August 8th, 2013 Chase Utley signed a contract extension guaranteeing him on the ball club through 2015 with options that could keep him on the team through 2018. It is important to note that Utley signed this contract as the team was on their way to a 73-89 record and on a clear path toward rebuilding. The unique part of this contract are his vesting options from 2016-2018. Each option gets picked up if/when Utley reaches 500 plate appearances the season before. It Utley makes it to the plate 500 times this season, he is on the squad in 2016. Easy as that. This spin is due to that fact that Utley has spent significant periods on the disabled list through the later part of his career due to knee and hip injuries.
Last season Chase Utley had 664 plate appearances. Assuming he had 4 plate appearances a game, he exceeded that number by 41 games last year. Seems like a lot, right? One or two trips to the disabled list and all of the sudden 500 plate appearances may be difficult to achieve. If it is toward the end of the season and Utley has yet to reach that plateau, it will be interesting to see how Sandberg plays Utley. Does he consistently throw him out there to get him to 500 appearances? Does he play it conservative so the club can try to re-work a contract with him or dare I say part ways? The use of Utley down the home stretch will indicate exactly what the organization’s intentions are for the six-time All Star.
Regardless of his vesting options, Utley holds another powerful tool: His 10-and-5 player rights. This allows Chase to veto any trade while he is still a Phillie. His name was mixed in some trade rumors last season and Utley made it perfectly clear that he intends to play for Philadelphia as long as his contract allows him to do so. If Utley continues to stay healthy, it sounds like he will be on this team for several seasons to come. If you are not watching him this season for his contract, watch him because he is the man. Even Harry Kalas thought so.