Chase Utley had a major role in the Philadelphia Phillies’ electric baseball show that ran from 2007 through 2011. While it seems increasingly likely that 2015 could represent his final curtain call, various career options do remain open.
This week’s announcement that Utley had been placed on the 15-day disabled list came as somewhat of a surprise. Right ankle inflammation was cited as the reason for his spot on the shelf. The health issue, that apparently has been bothering him since he sprained his ankle while working out in January, didn’t seem to be affecting his ability to run smoothly this season. Though it’s hard to disbelieve most athletes where injury issues are concerned because physical pain is a personal matter.
As for Utley, he’s always played hard and has pride. So, it seems plausible to believe that he’s been gutting it out since spring training and simply decided that this issue is connected to his weak performance. There’s also a deeper matter that must be considered. It involves career-ending preparations.
Obviously, Utley’s .179 batting average and .532 OPS through 249 plate appearances are perplexing marks. Anyone who ever adored Utley in his prime, or even watched him during recent years of decline, found this season’s swings to be baffling. That’s why understandable questions have been asked by media members, fans and the organization (internally) since April.
Unless he makes an endgame announcement, it won’t be possible to know if Utley’s career is over, or nearly finished, until he returns from this indefinite period of rest. His heart is still beating as strong as ever, he’s already won a championship and has the respect of the baseball world. Plus, he doesn’t need more money, having already earned over $100 million since his major league debut in 2003.
Utley likely won’t reach 500-plate appearances if this DL stint extends too far into the summer. Therefore, an automatic vesting option is his contract won’t guarantee $15 million in 2016. However, it’s always possible that Utley returns, plays well, doesn’t reach the vesting mark, but is willing to accept a team-friendly one-year extension. That assumes the Phillies would want him to return as a player. It would be hard to picture Utley filing for free agency and agreeing to wear another uniform, but Jimmy Rollins is with the Los Angeles Dodgers right now.
Number 26 could retire after this season and take a new role on the Phillies’ stage. He’s often stood behind the manager in the dugout during his career, so a coaching option might be enticing. With whatever happens, it’s fair to wonder if one man looked in the mirror, thoughtfully considered his choices and is allowing this season to move in a direction that is best for all involved.