Chase Utley, the Philadelphia Phillies, and Organizational Loyalty
Originally posted to isportstimes.com on August 13, 2013
During this past trade deadline, the Philadelphia Phillies were atop the list of teams that analysts said should look to sell off their veteran players. Much to the chagrin of said analysts, the Phillies decided not to make any moves at the deadline, with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. claiming that the front office didn’t find anything satisfactory in the marketplace.
One of the names most bandied about in Phillies trade rumors and analysis was that of all-star second baseman Chase Utley. The reasoning behind his name coming up was sound. Utley is an aging free-agent-to-be playing on a team that had fallen out of contention. The Phillies are a team on decline. They had cashed in all their prospects for veteran help in an effort to win in the present, and their farm system is now tapped out and in need of reinforcements. For a team in the Phillies position, whatever prospects they could get in a trade would surely be more valuable than two months of Utley on a team going nowhere. There were even suggestions that the Phillies could trade Utley, then make a bid to re-sign him in the off-season if they still wanted him.
All of that makes sense, if you are the general manager of a franchise in MLB The Show.
In the sabermetric era, there is a tendency to reduce player transactions and roster construction to pure numbers. There’s good reason for that. Sabermetrics allow talent evaluators to get a true picture of a player’s value. Beyond sabermetrics, there is the concept of asset management. There’s no doubt that, to the Phillies, the potential of young, cheap players to add to their farm system are better assets than two months of Chase Utley.
However, it’s critical to remember that baseball is still a game played by people.
Chase Utley is everything you could want in a ballplayer. Not only is he talented, but he also works his tail off every day. This is a guy that has battled chronic knee issues to maintain his place as one of the top second basemen in the game. He has done everything the club has asked of him, and he is a leader and a standard-bearer in the organization. He is everything a team could want in a player.
In other words, Utley is not a player that you just ship off to another team. Utley has displayed great loyalty to the Phillies, but loyalty is a two way street. People are always quick to bemoan players for not being loyal, for wanting more money or getting in trouble when they should be focused on helping the team. But very rarely do you see people call for an organization to be loyal to those same players.
It’s easy to see players as assets or sets of numbers rather than people. But a player like Utley deserves to be considered more than just an asset. A player like Utley deserves a say in his future. This isn’t to say the organization should kowtow to his every demand, but if teams expect their players to show loyalty, than it only makes sense that they show it back. If the player is fine with being traded, then trade him. If he wants to stay, then maybe the prudent course of action is to keep him (not to mention that as a 10-and-5 player, Utley has to approve any trade). In this case, both Utley and the Phillies brass wanted to continue the relationship, and both sides are satisfied with the extension Utley recently signed.
In the long run, the Phillies showing respect to their veteran players speaks volumes about the organization. It shows that this is an organization that treats their players right. It may be impossible to quantify, but being known as a quality organization may help attract players to the team and lead those players to go the extra mile to do whatever they can to help the team win a title. This type of organizational loyalty has already helped them re-sign Cliff Lee back in 2010, when Lee left money on the table to return to Philadelphia. When a business shows that it takes care of its employees, employees in competing organizations tend to notice.
Usually, a team that is not in contention is best served by moving its veteran players for prospects. But running a baseball team is not always as simple as maximizing assets. There is still a personal component to every roster move that’s made. Both players and management are often quick to say that “sports is a business”, and in business, it’s crucial for management to support their employees. The Phillies have done just that, and there’s no doubt that players throughout the league are taking notice.