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Breaking down Chase Utley's new deal

A close up look at Chase Utley's new deal.

C'mon Paco get a move on here. Sandberg's got fungos with my name on them.
C'mon Paco get a move on here. Sandberg's got fungos with my name on them.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Devil is always in the details. I'll admit that when the news broke yesterday that Chase Utley and the Phillies had agreed to a 2 year deal in the "25-30 million dollar neighborhood" with possible multiple vesting options I was at first giddy and immediately overcome with the notion that it had to be too good to be true. "Ruben will find a way to screw up the options" was what was going through my head. Boy was I wrong.

By now most of you Have read the details of the new deal. For those that haven't, the deal is essentially a two year guaranteed contract with three extremely creative options.

The base deal:

  • $15,000,000 guaranteed salary in 2014
  • $10,000,000 guaranteed salary in 2015
  • $5,000,000 BONUS in 2015 if He is not on the DL for more than 15 days with a specified knee condition.
  • $2,000,000 buyout.
In addition, the vesting options include:
  • $15,000,000 guaranteed in 2016-2018 provided Utley reaches 500 plate appearances in the preceding season. (something he has not done since 2010)
  • Should Utley fail to attain those 500 plate appearances, the option would revert to a conditional CLUB option between $5,000,000 and $11,000,000 depending on how many days he spends on the DL.
Got that?

A couple things to realize here:

  • The creativity in the guaranteed portion of the deal (The $5,000,000 bonus part in 2015) allows the Phillies to allocate only *$13,500,000 towards the luxury tax in 2014 and 2015. They basically pay Utley the same amount of money if he's healthy as he made this year and last, but get to take a $1,500,000 discount on paper. To put that into perspective, That $1,500,00 equals the equivalent of a John Lannan, Chad Durbin, three rookies, or almost Kevin Frandsen Dom Brown and Ben Revere. It also was just south of what Chicago paid for Nate Schierholtz.... How Ruben spends that money is key, but its a big deal for 2014. 2015 will be a little trickier if utley hits his bonus, as that year would count at $18,500,000 but even if that puts them over for one year, his option for 2016 would be at a minimum $3,500,000 less. instant savings and at worst a one time hit.
  • Because of the ways the options work out, the third year and beyond count as stand alone deals. So for luxury tax purposes, there's no averaging. That's important because the Phillies will continue to look long term as if Utley is on the books but there's no commitment unless he's attaining the 500 PA plateau. More importantly, should Utley pull a Howard, and suddenly stop hitting left handed pitching? But they want to keep him to platoon? Once they START the platoon his next year he gets paid as a platoon player. (If I didn't know better I;d think someone has learned a little on the job....)
Simply put, I can't figure out a better way to spend $27-30mm over the next two years for the value you get on anyone in the free agent market, at any position.
  • The conditional club options, if he doesn't hit the 500 AB's? That's the team's decision. They can walk away if Utley gets 499 plate appearances, so it's not automatic. But consider this. As Utley ages and his knees do continue to weaken; let's assume for a minute that in three years, Utley can only HANDLE 80 starts a year. But hes still able to produce at an elite level for those 80 starts? They can pay him ACCORDINGLY!! Now the option details for the structure haven't been released but lets just assume for the same of argument that its $11,000,000 for 400-499 PA, $9,000,000 for 300-350 PA and $10,000,000 for 350-399 PA. In '11, '12 and '13, Utley made $45mm and amassed 10 fWAR for those shortened seasons. So even at a reduced level of play he was worth roughly half a win more than his contract (assuming $5,000,000 per fWAR) If this contract were in place then? The Phillies would have paid him $15,000,000 guaranteed for 2011, but just $21,000,000 total for 12 and 13. $36,000,000 for 10 fWAR, roughly 1.4 wins MORE than the contract. That doesn't even take into account the luxury tax benefits and the additional flexibility. That's unheard of.
  • What's so amazing about this to me is not that the deal is structured this way, but that a player like Chase Utley would agree to be paid based on his ability to produce. There is literally NO RISK here, past the first two years, for the team, save the unlikely scenario in which Utley reaches 500 plate appearances but suddenly can't hit anymore.
  • The options also allow Chase Utley to decide when it's time to hang them up, and when that happens he's virtually guaranteed to do that here. Make no mistake, this deal was designed with that in mind, with the reality of his knees in the back of the decision making process.
All in all, I can't imagine a more well-rounded contract than this one. For both sides.

Folks this is groundbreaking shit. Seriously, I combed through about 100 different player contracts and I couldn't find a single one that dealt with options like this, and the main reason is that players are hesitant to accept them. Mainly because of the DL implications. But make no mistake this is a fantastic deal for both Utley and the Phillies. The only real risk year in 2014. And there are few people who would have been upset if Ruben offered him a QO and went year to year.

Guess what? That's basically what this is, only cheaper. this is essentially a two year qualifying offer for below what the QO rate would be, with three consecutive automatic QO's at less than what the QO will be come 2016, with the ability to guarantee LESS than the QO if the player isn't performing.

Except the player can't turn it down.

Process that for a second. Ruben did that. Yes. That Ruben.

The contract is not only creative, what's so damn beautiful about it is that it's so obviously a work of mutual trust and give and take. Simply put this is a deal that both sides wanted to get done and both sides obviously respected each other enough to have the goal of making something reasonable and fair come together. And more importantly, this was a deal that respected the FRANCHISE FIRST. Not the player, not the general manager, not the team. It not only allowed Chase Utley to do what so few do anymore in this sport, Chase Utley agreed to do it in a way that would not cripple the franchise two years from now or three years from now. That's so rare.

Lastly, There are sure to be skeptics here. People who feel that the Phillies "need to get younger" . For those of you who feel that way let me put this into perspective.

Here's a list of second basemen, ranked by fWAR since 2010. There are three players with more fWAR over that period than Chase Utley. Robinson Cano, Ben Zobrist, and Dustin Pedroia. Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips, Howie Kendrick and Dan Uggla all fall just behind Utley.

Utley has played 115 fewer games than the guy with the next fewest. He's never had a season where he's been worth less than 3 wins. EVER. and in every season that he's reached 500 plate appearances he's put up a minimum of 5 wins. Simply put, if Chase Utley HITS his vesting bonuses? he's worth $25,000,000 a year.

Pedroia earns $104,000,000 through 2020, his age 37 season. We can all imagine what Cano's contract will look like as well. And no offense to my Rays fans but Zobrist was primarily an OF for half that time. So I'm not going to include him here.

Ian Kinsler is signed through his age 36 season. He earns $16mm in '14 and '15.
Brandon Phillips is guaranteed through his age 36 season (2017) at $13mm per year.
Howie Kendrick has two years left at just south of $10mm a year, when he will be 31.

So basically 4 deals (including Cano) where the team pays a premium for the end years and one contract that's at the tail end (Kendrick) for a guy who's currently 0.6 fWAR behind Utley in 28 more games this season and is 4 years younger.

And Dan Uggla? In roughly 200 more games than Chase Utley, Dan Uggla has put up 4 fewer wins above replacement since 2010. He is 15 months younger than Chase Utley, and has two years left on his deal with the Braves.

Chase Utley will make just $1,000,000 MORE in guaranteed salary than Dan Uggla in 2014 and 2015.

THAT is how GOOD this deal is.

We give Ruben Amaro crap for a lot of things but this is by far his finest work. And he couldn't have done it without Utley.

hallway. post press conference. Ruben smiles.

Chase: What?

Ruben: Nothing.

Chase: Stop creeping me out Paco.

Ruben: Look...

Chase: Don't say it.

Ruben: Chase...

Chase: Yeah yeah, I know Paco.

Ruben: I meant what I said. We can fix this.

Chase: No shit.

Ruben: And without you, well..

Chase: I did my part. Now go do yours.

Ruben: Chase...

Chase: What the fuck are you still here for? Go call someone. Trade somebody. Do your fucking part! Stop staring at my ass and make some shit happen.

Ruben smiles and says nothing. he walks off slowly whistling

Utley sits silent for a moment. then stops. He looks upwards. a single tear falls down his cheek. He does not wipe it. He doesn't even realize its there.

Utley: Whadda ya think Harry?

Chase nods, starts to walks off.

Utley: Yeah, I think that's about a right.

Utley: (humming) Does da da da a spider can. (shouting down the hall) Yo DOM! WHERE YOU AT?? CAGES FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO. And bring the Ass kid!


*editors note...late night math and commenters notes regarding the bonus structure led me to update this slightly.