Phillies 2nd baseman Chase Utley turned 36 years old last month. In this day and age, where players are no longer capable of extending their careers and/or enhancing their performance with the help of substances, that is old age in baseball years.
Not only is Utley battling Father Time, he is also battling his own body. He has been playing for the last few years on a pair of balky knees, dealing with both patella tendonitis and Chrondromalacia patella.
After suffering through a physically painful 2012 season, Utley learned to rest more, stretch better, and generally strengthen the muscles around his knee for more support.
The result was an improved 2013 and 2014 performance, and a return to near the top of production among MLB 2nd basemen.
In 2013 at age 34, Utley banged out 18 homers and 25 doubles, his highest totals in those power categories since 2009. He also tied a career high with 6 triples.
In 2014, while his homers fell to 11, he again reach a half-dozen triples, raised his doubles total to 36, and thus raised his extra-base total from 49 to 53.
Chase will never return to his 2005-09 prime years, when he was not only the premier offensive 2nd basemen in the game but also one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, period. But the production that he has given the Phillies over the last two years is certainly acceptable.
The problem is that age. While he has fought back against the bad knees and managed his conditions well enough to stay effective, that is sure to continue to get harder with each passing year.
It is a sure thing that one of these years, Utley simply will break down, and likely for good. That could come at any time, including this coming 2015 season.
The 2015 season is the final guaranteed year in Utley’s contract. He is due to make $10 million this time around, and needs to reach the 500 plate appearances mark in order to guarantee a $15 million contract for 2016.
That will be the case each year. He will need to keep reaching that mark to guarantee that salary through 2018. As recently as 2011 and 2012, Utley was unable to reach that mark due to his battles with various injuries, including those knees.
Phillies fans need to enjoy every game that Chase plays at this point. Time is running out for ‘The Man’ who has played 2nd base more than any other player in franchise history, and it is probably a 50-50 proposition that this coming season will be the last we hear “Kashmir” play as this fan favorite walks to the plate in red pinstripes.