The Most Obvious Trade That Needs To Happen

With the trade deadline a little more than a month away, we’re going to see a lot of rumors and speculation over the next few weeks, with reporters tying players to certain teams based on what they’ve heard from industry sources. This post is neither rumor nor speculation. No one in the game has suggested to me that this might happen. I have no inside information. I’m just pointing out a trade that, from an outside perspective, looks so glaringly obvious that it has to happen for the world to make sense.

The Oakland A’s need a second baseman. Well, maybe you could argue that they need a shortstop, because Jed Lowrie‘s defense is pretty lousy at he’d be less harmful at 2B than SS, but Lowrie is still playing SS on a fairly regular basis, so technically, the A’s still need a second baseman. Preferably a second baseman who can hit. Eric Sogard is not a bad utility player to come off the bench, but he shouldn’t be playing regularly for a team in the midst of a pennant race. They should be able to do better.

So, let’s assume that the A’s are hunting for a second baseman, and not just a fill-in stop-gap type, but a guy who could make a real difference and push them over the hump as a legitimate World Series contender. But, because they’re the A’s and they’re constantly balancing current wins against maintaining enough assets for the future, they also need that impact player to come at something of a discount due to a diminished perception of his abilities. Basically, they need an impact player who people don’t think of as an impact player anymore.

They need Chase Utley.

From 2005 to 2009, Utley was an absolute monster, putting up five consecutive seasons with a +7 (or higher) WAR. He was perhaps the best all-around player in the game. However, over the last few years, injuries have begun to take their toll on Utley. After posting slugging percentages over .500 for five straight years, he’s now been in the mid .400s for the last four years. Right now, he’s the owner of a .335 on base percentage, a mark that would be a career low since becoming a regular back in 2005. And these are just rate stats, which don’t account for the fact that he misses a lot of playing time now. He just came off the DL on Friday after spending a month healing from an oblique injury. Chase Utley is not what he once was.

But that’s exactly why he’s perfect the A’s. Present day Chase Utley is living in the shadow of in-his-prime Chase Utley, so the perception is that he’s an older player breaking down and showing his age. Those are true statements, but they obfuscate the reality that a breaking down aging Chase Utley is still a pretty terrific player.

Among second baseman with at least 200 plate appearances, Utley’s 120 wRC+ ranks 10th, just behind Dustin Pedroia (124) and ahead of guys like Ben Zobrist (114). By home runs and RBIs, Utley might not look like anything special, but Utley still has power — his .196 ISO is his highest mark since ’09 — and still makes a lot of contact. Those are not skills that are particularly easy to find in a player who can play second base, and for what its worth, UZR still loves Utley’s defense at second base. In fact, the consistency of his defensive ratings are kind of amazing.

Season Team Pos Inn DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
2005 Phillies 2B 1,195.1 -0.6 16.9 -0.7 15.5 17.3
2006 Phillies 2B 1,367.1 1.4 7.6 -1.5 7.5 8.0
2007 Phillies 2B 1,167.0 -1.5 12.8 1.2 12.5 14.8
2008 Phillies 2B 1,395.2 -0.5 19.0 -0.3 18.3 19.2
2009 Phillies 2B 1,357.0 0.1 10.9 0.1 11.0 12.1
2010 Phillies 2B 1,007.0 2.1 9.2 -0.9 10.4 13.0
2011 Phillies 2B 887.2 -2.2 10.1 1.2 9.2 15.7
2012 Phillies 2B 720.1 -0.8 9.2 -1.6 6.8 14.7
2013 Phillies 2B 419.1 -0.7 6.4 -1.4 4.2 17.1
Total Phillies 2B 10,229.0 -0.8 104.8 -4.1 99.9 13.9

In a 10,000 inning sample over nine years, Utley has rated out as an elite defensive second baseman every single season, and his numbers haven’t declined even with the injuries. It has long been suggested that Utley’s range numbers are somewhat inflated because of where he positions himself, but a guy who is so good at positioning as to make extra plays that others can’t make is still adding value, and there’s no real reason to think that Utley would become bad at pre-pitch positioning if he was traded out of Philadelphia.

Even if you’re skeptical of defensive metrics, the case for Utley being a quality defensive second baseman is pretty strong, though he won’t be viewed as a big time defender based on his age, injuries, and the lack of flash with which he turns balls in play into outs. In other words, Utley specializes in exactly the kind of skills that are least likely to start a bidding war, and that’s exactly the kind of player that the A’s end up targeting.

Over the past calendar year, Utley has played in 133 games and hit 568 times, so he’s played nearly one full season during that stretch. He’s not Lou Gehrig or anything, but he’s healthy enough to play on a regular basis. During the last 365 days, Utley has posted +4.8 WAR, the fourth highest total of any second baseman in baseball. Even if you think defensive metrics are unreliable and you want to ignore them entirely, Utley would grade out as a +3.7 WAR player. Even if you want to use more traditional numbers, Utley is one home run and three steals away from being a 20-20 player during that stretch.

Chase Utley is still very good at baseball. Chase Utley is the prototypical Oakland A’s kind of player, and he would be a massive upgrade over Eric Sogard.

The Phillies might be reluctant to trade guys like Cliff Lee and give off the impression of a firesale, but Utley is a 34-year-old free agent to be who probably won’t be re-signing with the Phillies in the off-season. He’s the kind of guy that they can move without signaling that the franchise is entering total rebuild mode.

The A’s have some young talent that could help the Phillies long term. There are few teams that could make as dramatic of an upgrade as going from Eric Sogard to Chase Utley. Utley seems like the absolute perfect player for what Oakland values, and he happens to play the position where they most need improvement. This just seems like a trade that needs to happen. Chase Utley starting for a Billy Beane team just seems right.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Rickey24
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Rickey24

Why not go all-in? Cliff Lee and Utley for Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and Max Muncy with some salary offsets and perhaps Grant Green.

VORP is too nerdy
Guest
VORP is too nerdy

Cliff Lee’s salary alone would take up ~40% of their current payroll.

Tim A
Guest
Tim A

They have too many pitchers already, Lee is amazing, but I think they can spend smarter, and look for Anderson’s return, and/or Gray being called up for pitching help. I wonder why Green, Weeks, and Nakajima, haven’t been given at least a look yet. I like Rosie as a guy, but he hasn’t showed value in 3+ years now, and doesn’t have much upside. Keeping him on the roster, and constantly bringing up 3rd catchers, instead of trying internal solutions is madding.

VORP is too nerdy
Guest
VORP is too nerdy

Rosales is a defensive fill-in more than anything else, and neither Green nor Weeks are known for their defense. Nakajima is just returning from injury and re-working his hitting mechanics in AAA. Apparently he changed the approach he used in Japan when facing American pitchers, failed pretty miserably, and is just now returning to his natural approach.

Bill
Guest
Bill

Phillies’ ownership will promise to bring in enough votes to get the A’s to San Jose as part of the trade.

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente

There is a rumor here across the Bay, that the Giants are kicking the tires on Lee.

Jono11
Guest

They can kick whatever tires they want, they’re still not going to the postseason.

brendan
Guest
brendan

I’m an A’s fan, and that’s a thrilling prospect to have Beane push all in like that; but even w/ Lee and Utley I’m not sure we’re better than the Rangers. Is it worth 4 of our top 10 prospects to roll the dice this year?

Rickey24
Guest
Rickey24

With Utley and Lee, I think a strong case could be made that we are better. Sure it may be 4 of the top ten prospects (arguably Green is past his sell-date) but look at the quality rather than quantity. Muncy is having a great year but is undersized and already 22 in A ball; Choice has holes in his swing and we are stacked in the OF; and Gray is good but not elite.

VORP is too nerdy
Guest
VORP is too nerdy

The A’s may be stacked in the outfield right now, but by 2015 all that will be left are Cespedes (for a year) and Reddick. They’ll need Choice to be ready to be an every day contributor.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko

Oh come on! Michael Taylor and Shane Peterson will still be around.

Mac
Guest
Mac

It matters more for winning playoff series. Lee can dominate single games. The A’s don’t have that legitimate ace in the rotation right now.

Erik
Guest
Erik

Brendan, are you kidding? The A’s are possibly better than the Rangers as it is. They should only improve with the additions of a Cy Young caliber pitcher and above average 2B

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption

Anyone remember the Utley+Howard for Zito deal that was rumored in 2004?

VORP is too nerdy
Guest
VORP is too nerdy

Ryan Howard’s career would have been vastly different in Oakland, I think. And by that I mean no MVP award.

BX
Guest
BX

And no 100MM contract.

Oakland suppresses his HR numbers, and no other team signs him to that extension.

Nick O
Guest
Nick O

IIRC, trade blew up because of Ed Wade’s refusal to throw in Kyle Kendrick (though this might have been a slightly later iteration).

Keith
Guest
Keith

Not even close to being true. Ed Wade was terrible, terrible GM, but he wasn’t this bad.

Further, Kyle Kendrick was a 7th round draft pick stinking it up in A- ball. He was valueless. He certainly would never be a deciding piece in a trade.

tbjfan
Guest
tbjfan

Just imagine if it did happen…

fonzie 13
Guest
fonzie 13

Same time frame as the rejected Howard for Kris Benson and later Kip Wells deals.

Jono11
Guest

I don’t think the A’s do that deal. They’re not trying to add an expensive and overpaid starter to the rotation. I don’t see the A’s doing more than Choice or Gray for Utley, straight up.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko

I don’t think I’d do that deal. Choice and Gray look like future major leaguers. I don’t think I’d trade that for a half-year rental, even an excellent one.

JD
Guest
JD

Do you think you can get a player such as Utley without giving up something? Choice and Gray LOOK like future major leaguers, but Utley IS a current major leaguer that can help Oakland. So instead of trading from your strong positions to help your weakest position, you’d just rather let it ride and hope Texas and the wild card teams don’t improve enough to leave you on the sidelines for the playoffs. Sound strategy there bub.

bob
Guest
bob

ya that package would barely get Utley let alone Lee.

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