The Phillies are attempting to extend second baseman Chase Utley as opposed to trading him at this week's trade deadline. The 34-year old Utley is going to be a free agent at the end of the season, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said that he envisions Utley as a Phillie for life.
On the surface, a contract extension for Utley seems silly. In recent years, he's had injuries to both of his knees, as well as to his ribs and his right thumb. The Phillies already have several large, ugly contracts on the books for next season, so why would they throw Utley's on top of the pile?
2013 will likely end up being Utley's best season since 2010 after he missed 138 games in 2011 and 2012. He's also going to be part of a crowded free agent class at second base after the season, along with Robinson Cano, Kelly Johnson, and Omar Infante. With multiple options on the table, Utley could end up getting a lesser contract than if he were the cream of the second base crop, which would be a bargain for the Phillies.
But when considering extending Utley, you need to look beyond this offseason. The free agent crop at second base after the 2014 season is absolutely pitiful, highlighted by Emilio Bonifacio (who isn't even a second baseman) and Rickie Weeks (unless his option for 2015 vests). If the Phillies sign Utley to a two or three year extension, any teams that would be interested in him at the trade deadline next season would be bidding on a player that is a year older, but one that has more than two months of control attached to him and is a better option than any other player they would be able to grab in the free agent market.
Trading players is a gamble. The Padres could have cashed in on Chase Headley last summer or winter when he was in the midst of a top five MVP season, but didn't, and his offensive numbers have fallen across the board this year. The Twins never traded Justin Morneau when his value was at its peak, and his value is in the gutter heading into free agency. At the same time, the Astros held out on dealing Bud Norris this winter, and he's one of the sexier names on the starting pitching market, and Matt Garza got the Cubs a pretty good return after he got hurt near the deadline last year and his value fell. Utley could stay healthy over the last two months, put together an incredible second half, and head into 2014 looking like the Chase Utley of old. He could also get hurt again and be a sunk cost just like his partner on the right side of the Phillies infield, Ryan Howard.
I don't think giving Utley an extension is the worst thing that Amaro can do, but he needs to keep an open mind regarding his second baseman. If Utley remains a Phillie through the year and gets that extension, he'll earn his 10 and 5 rights and can essentially shut down any attempt by Amaro to move him. If a team is offering the Phillies a worthy bounty for Utley, I'd probably jump all over it right now. But if the offers are underwhelming, it wouldn't be a disaster if the Phillies hung on to him for the next two or three seasons.