Chase Utley has been on the disabled list for the Phillies for about two weeks and may not be activated until late July or even August. Upon his return, there might not be regular at-bats for him the former franchise cornerstone, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters (including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com). Asked if Utley is still the team’s starting second baseman, Amaro candidly replied: “Not for me he’s not. Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman. I would assume that Cesar would be our second baseman. I think that’s fair.”
That news carries more significance than it would for most veteran players being surpassed by a younger option, because Utley has a vesting option on his contract that is based on plate appearances. As things stand right now, Utley is just shy of halfway to the required 500 plate appearances he’d need for a $15MM vesting option to trigger. His 249 plate appearances have been accumulated in 65 games, and there was a chance that Utley could have reached 500 PAs with a late July return. Amaro did mention that Utley could see some time at first base, but it seems that Hernandez’s strong play at second base will prevent Utley’s option from vesting.
Details surrounding Utley’s option are somewhat nebulous, but if it does not vest, the option will be a club option valued at somewhere between $5MM and $11MM based on the number of days that Utley spent on the disabled list in 2015. That will leave the Phillies with an interesting choice; they’ll be tasked with deciding whether or not to bring back a player that has been one of the faces of the franchise for the better part of a decade at somewhat of a discounted rate or buy him out for $2MM.
Of course, Utley’s play to this point hasn’t been up to his standards, nor has it been worth even $5MM. The six-time All-Star has batted just .179/.257/.275 with four homers in his 249 plate appearances this season. His defense, as one would expect of a 36-year-old with a history of knee issues, has declined as well.
Hernandez, on the other hand, entered play today hitting .302/.385/.385 with a homer and a perfect 12-for-12 in stolen base chances. Defensive metrics are down on his work at second base, and he’s also benefited from a lofty .363 BABIP. Still, Hernandez’s baserunning prowess, keen eye at the plate and excellent contact skills give the Phillies reason to be intrigued by the 25-year-old beyond the financial implications of the decision.