Don't get me wrong (as sure a sign as any I expect to be misunderstood), who wouldn't want Chase Utley as his team's starting second baseman?
Few if any professional athletes in this city's history have ever been more admired and respected. In this space I have sung his praises, strongly suggesting fans never take him for granted. We watched a dedicated, talented and fiercely competitive Utley lead the Phillies from the wilderness to the Promise Land.
So why am I puzzled the Phillies signed him to a two-year deal worth $27 million with incentives that could extend the pact another three years and $48 million?
Well, Utley hasn't played a full season, or what passes for a full season with a few days off here and there, in several years. The Phillies' alleged brain trust is gambling again. Their track record isn't stellar. For every Cliff Lee there is a Jonathan Papelbon. For every Cole Hamels there is a Ryan Howard.
Second base may be the second or third toughest position, catcher being number one and first base perhaps being number two. First basemen get stepped on periodically. Second baseman get knocked down regularly.
Utley has missed a lot of time due to chronic knee ailments. This year he also went on the Disabled List due to an oblique strain. The day his contract extension was reported, his picture appeared on the front page of the sports section sliding hard into home plate. He only knows one speed: full out.
Utley is still a very productive hitter and an adequate second baseman. At his age he needs time off even were his knees not a problem. He also made it clear he wanted to remain a Phillie. He grew up in this organization, came to maturity in it, and became more or less the face of it, albeit in a quite way. Utley acknowledged when re-signing he'd spoken to other players in his position who'd switched teams late in their careers. "The grass isn't always greener...," he proclaimed. How could you not like a guy who likes you!!??
The contract is a gamble. The Phillies are betting he still has about 125 games a year in him for at least two more years. I wouldn't bet again them...or against Utley. Still, it's a huge bet.