We are a month into the baseball season, and the Royals are not mathematically eliminated from contention. In fact, after a great week, the Royals enjoy the fourth best record in the league. It is only May, but some fans are already thinking ahead to July trades that could help bolster this team if they are remain in contention. In particular, right field and second base seem to be two areas the Royals could really stand to upgrade.
Royals fans were abuzz on twitter this weekend from this speculative tweet by Buster Olney:
If PHI doesn't turn it around, Chase Utley could be one of the most interesting players on the trade market. KC, BAL great possible fits.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 6, 2013
Whoa, whoa, whoa. CHASE UTLEY? Five-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley? Here? In a Royals uniform? And not when he's five years past his prime and hanging on to stay in the big leagues, but while he's still a very useful player? I'd believe it more if the Royals acquired former NBC News anchorman Garrick Utley.
But this is a new Royals world, in which up is down, the sky is green, and the Royals are a successful team. Could the unthinkable be possible?
Here's what Dutton says:
Now the obstacles, and they’re considerable. First, he’s making $15 million. That means roughly $5 million to get him just prior to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
Personally, I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker. I think the Royals, if they’re in contention in late July, will try to add a significant piece. I also think owner David Glass would sign off on a major short-term expenditure.
The bigger problems are (1) Utley can block trades to 21 teams (including, presumably, the Royals); (2) several contenders are likely to show interest, which means (3) getting him will likely require something of real value.
Chew that over. Would/should the Royals add $5 million in payroll and trade a top prospect or two for two months of Utley? You can bet the Phillies will be asking for Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer or someone similar. I’m not sure they’d be willing to do that.
Utley will be a free agent this fall, and the Phillies are struggling along with a 14-18 record. If they fall out of contention, what would it take to get two months of Chase Utley?
Chase Utley in his prime was an 8-9 WAR player. However, he hasn't done that since 2009. His problem the last few seasons has been staying on the field. He hasn't played in more than 115 games in a season since 2009. In that limited action, he has still been a 3.5 - 5 WAR player, playing in about 100-115 games per year. Extrapolating that over a full season, that's about a 5-7 WAR player. What have comparable older players with two months before free agency been worth at the July trade deadline?
- Last year, the Phillies sent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers for P Ethan Martin, P Josh Lindblom and IF Stefan Jarrin. Victorino was coming off a 5 WAR season, but is typically a 3 WAR player or so, and was in the midst of a 2.6 WAR season. Lindblom was a B- prospect according to John Sickels, but his upside was as a reliever. He was later traded as part of the Michael Young deal. Martin has pretty much been a first round bust with the numbers, but still flashes enough potential to make prospect lists. Jarrin was a throw-in.
- in 2011, the Mets dealt Carlos Beltran to the Giants for P Zach Wheeler. Beltran was starting to hit his decline phase, but was still putting up 3-4 WAR seasons when healthy. Beltran was in his age-34 season, like Utley is now. Both Beltran then and Utley now struggled to stay on the field due to injuries. Beltran was owed $19 million that year, close to the $15 million Utley is owed this year. This seems like the closest comparative trade.
- In 2009, the Athletics traded outfielder Matt Holliday to the Cardinals for IF Brett Wallace, OF Shane Peterson and P Clayton Mortensen. Holliday was much younger than Utley is now (29 at the time of the trade) and was still a 5-6 WAR player with no significant injury history. Wallace was a former first round pick and graded as an "A-" prospect with a "monster bat" by John Sickels who has since bounced around and been largely a disappointment. Peterson and Mortensen were both given C grades and were considered future role players.
My best guess is the Royals are probably going to have to deal one Top 100 prospect and a throw-in or two to land Utley. The Phillies are in serious need of some elite talent in their minor league - Sickels had just one Phillies prospect in his top 100 (pitcher Jesse Biddle), and two in his top 150 (pitcher Adam Morgan) MLB.com had two in their Top 100 due to a good scouting report on Ethan Martin.
It will likely take a Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura to land a guy like Utley. The good thing is, it probably shouldn't take anything more than that. Also, Utley would almost certainly land you a draft compensatory pick as the club could offer him the $14 million or so qualifying offer and rest confident that he would reject it.
However, its far from clear the Royals have enough to be a serious championship contender this year. And despite Dayton's best efforts, the Royals organization is not exactly brimming with impact minor league arms. Does sacrificing a future talent like Zimmer or Ventura make sense for a rent-a-player? And let's not forget Utley's no-trade clause.
But how cool is it that we can even have these conversations? Sure beats the heck out of lamenting about how miserable the team plays. Chase Utley, if you are somehow able to become a Royal, I think you would be a real home run.