Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

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Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

MIAMI — Phillies president Andy MacPhail is surprised by the team’s success.

“I was hoping for and expected that we would have meaningful, measurable progress and I think what we’ve done to this point exceeds meaningful, measurable progress,” he said before Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins. “Just the fact that we’re a game-and-a-half in first place exceeds my expectations.”

With the team’s window of contention opening a year before many expected, club officials are reacting.

“We’re in a different situation than we anticipated and we have to act accordingly,” MacPhail said. “I know (general manager) Matt Klentak and his group is doing exactly that. We’re in a position where we need to try to augment our current group to try to preserve our place in the standings for as long as we can.”

Klentak and his lieutenants are busy pursuing trade opportunities. The Phils would love to land slugging left-side infielder Manny Machado and lefty closer Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles (see story). Competition for the two players is intense. The Phillies have built some good depth of quality prospects in their minor-league system and are willing to part with some of it to land Machado and/or Britton. There are even indications that the Phils would do a deal for Machado without immediately signing the free-agent-to-be to a contract extension, though Machado’s contract status would certainly affect the price the Phillies were willing to pay.

It’s all a complicated balance of present vs. future because as much as the Phillies want to win this season they want to sustain the winning for a decade.

“It’s an inexact science,” MacPhail said. “You try to ascertain as best you can what is immovable and where you have areas where you are giving up talent but you have enough in the system to absorb that. It’s what you can afford to do and what you can’t because our stated goal and our directive from ownership is to be in a position where postseason potential isn’t just a one-and-out type of thing.”

John Middleton, the Phillies managing partner, is aggressive and eager to win. But he is also levelheaded. He has been portrayed in some media reports as looking to make a splash.

MacPhail scoffed at that.

“John wants to win,” MacPhail said. “John wants to sustain winning. But John is not an ‘excite the town at any cost’ guy. My view is that he’s smart and he’s realistic. I think I’ve done a good job of explaining the importance of an organization and progress and he’s seen that. He’s not willing to give up too much of that just to make a splash. Someone wrote the other day that ownership wants to make a splash. Let me tell you something about John Middleton. He’s not a ‘splash’ guy for something that doesn't make sense. I can promise you that.”

MacPhail is fond of saying that in the baseball business, the fans will let you know how you are doing with their choosing to buy tickets or not.

Despite their success, the Phils rank fourth from the bottom in the National League in average attendance at 26,740 per game.

MacPhail said he was not surprised by the attendance and he believes there are factors behind it. First, the team was not projected to be a top contender. Second, there is competition for the entertainment dollar.

“Philly is a good sports town and you have to make some allowances,” he said. “These are not excuses, but you have to make some allowances. There’s only so much disposable income that people have. Let’s be honest, the Eagles and the Sixers sucked some of that out before we even threw a pitch.

“I need to build an organization on the baseball and business side that is going to sustain success and make us a competitive product for years to come and an attractive place to come for years to come.”

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Why Chase Utley's Hall of Fame case comes up just short

Why Chase Utley's Hall of Fame case comes up just short

The Phillies' golden era has been over for quite some time but this month sure felt like the final chapter, with Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley all announcing their retirements.

Utley will play out the rest of this season, but the conversation quickly shifts to his Hall of Fame candidacy. 

I'm assuming a good number of Phillies fans will disagree, but in my opinion, Utley's résumé falls just short. His peak just wasn't long enough.

From 2005-10, Utley was an incredible all-around baseball player. He hit for average, hit for power, took his walks, was the sport's most savvy and efficient base runner, and he had above average range at second base.

That six-year peak can be put up against the peak of any second baseman in baseball history. The postseason successes and Utley's legendary work ethic only add to it.

But you can't be selective about these things. When acknowledging Utley's magnificent peak, you must also account for the mediocre second half of his career.

From 2011-14, Utley's last full season as a Phillie, he hit .269/.347/.433 and missed 176 games. Decent numbers, but not Utley at his peak. From 2015-18, he's hit .235/.310/.377 as a part-time player.

All in all, Utley's OPS has been league average over his last 3,500 plate appearances. You just can't dismiss that.

I brought this up Friday on Twitter and one of the replies was that a five-year run was good enough for Sandy Koufax to make it. But Koufax had maybe the best five-year run of any starting pitcher ever, going 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and 0.93 WHIP and three Cy Young awards in his final five seasons. 

If Utley had a bonkers run like that with a couple MVP awards, this is a different conversation.

One determinant I like to use with the Hall of Fame is "Can the story of baseball be told without this player?" Because of his peak, the Phillies' 2008 World Series and his record-setting '09 World Series, the story of baseball cannot be told without Utley.

And yet it still feels like he'll fall just short.

Longtime statistician Bill James has a formula called the Hall of Fame Monitor, which weighs different career stats to measure a player's likelihood of making the HOF. A score of 100 is seen as a likely Hall of Famer. Utley is at 94. 

That feels about right. Very, very, very good career, and one that means more to Philadelphians than it does to anybody anywhere else.

Utley just wasn't that same dynamic player over a long enough portion of his career. The serious knee injuries were the major reason why. Without them, we might be talking about a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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The case for Chase Utley to get elected to Hall of Fame

The case for Chase Utley to get elected to Hall of Fame

The end has come for “The Man.” 

Chase Utley announced Friday he will retire following the 2018 season. When the Dodgers' season ends, Utley’s Hall of Fame clock begins. He’ll go on the ballot in five years and will subsequently have 10 possible chances to receive the 75 percent of the vote necessary for election.

From my perspective, Utley is the only Phillies position player of the 2007-11 golden era that has a chance for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Jimmy Rollins has an interesting anecdotal case but the numbers just don’t suggest Rollins is worthy of a call to the Hall.

Utley, however, not only deserves consideration but should be voted into the Hall of Fame. 

The debate on Utley will ultimately hinge on how the voters interpret his numbers. His total counting numbers do not impress. Recording 3,000 career hits has been the automatic mark for induction. Utley will not even get to 2,000. He’ll likely finish his career in the neighborhood of 260 home runs and 1,035 RBIs. Both those totals are respectable, especially for a second baseman. But neither is eye-popping.

But when you look at Utley’s peak from 2005-11, the advanced metrics certainly play in his favor. The UCLA product finished top six among all MLB players in WAR in every season from 2005-09. During that span, Utley posted a .301/.388/.535 slash line while averaging 101 RBIs and 73 extra-base hits per season. Furthermore, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, which measures a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, puts Utley as the 10th-best second baseman of all-time between Ryne Sandberg and Frankie Frisch, both of whom are already enshrined in Cooperstown.

In his era, Robinson Cano is the only second baseman to post better numbers than Utley. But Cano’s recent positive PED test casts doubts on his entire career. So it’s not difficult to argue Utley was the best player at his position during his career.

Beyond the numbers, Utley has a very strong anecdotal case. If the Dodgers make the postseason this year, Utley will have made nine postseason appearances in his career. He’s been to three World Series, winning it all in 2008 with the Phillies. 

Speaking of the Fall Classic, his five home runs vs. the Yankees in 2009 tie him with Reggie Jackson and George Springer for the most in a single World Series. In 2008, Utley’s Game 1 first-inning home run set the tone for a team looking to end a quarter-century of Philadelphia sports shortcomings.

Then in Game 5 of that series, with the Phils nursing a one-run lead, Utley authored the most important defensive play in the 135-year history of the franchise with his fake to first, throw to home that cut down Jason Bartlett at the plate. 

Utley does have a lack of individual hardware during his career. His four Silver Slugger awards are it as far as end-of-season accomplishments go. That said, it’s noteworthy that Rollins’ 2007 MVP award was likely headed for Utley’s mantle if not for a John Lannan fastball that broke Utley’s hand in July of that season. That was the 100th game Utley played that season. At that point, he was on pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 133 runs while hitting .336 for the season. Despite missing 30 games, Utley still finished with the fourth-best WAR in MLB that season (7.6), well ahead of Rollins (6.1).

Beyond those moments, there was the leadership Utley provided. We certainly march into a gray area when discussing that which cannot be quantified. But teammates both in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, almost universally, speak glowingly of Utley’s approach and how it positively impacts the teams for which he’s played.

I’ll never forget producing an interview with a key member of those great Phillies teams. During a break, the subject of leadership came up. Players on those teams publicly disdained speaking about who was the leader for fear of offending anyone. But with the cameras off, this player went into great detail about how Utley led the team, even laughing at the notion that there were any leaders on the team beyond Utley.

So if Utley’s career numbers leave his Hall of Fame case at a stalemate, everything else points in his direction. And it’s only fitting when talking about the best base runner of his generation that the tie go to the runner.

That’s my case for Chase.

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