The Phillies are expected to miss the postseason for the second consecutive year, and 2013 could be their first losing season since 2002. So Utley, the undisputed heart and soul of the Phillies clubhouse, asked Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. numerous questions about the direction of the organization and its ability to recapture its winning ways next season and beyond.
"I wanted to know where we're at," Utley said in a news conference announcing the extension. "[Amaro] laid it out for me. He said we want to win. We're going to do what we need to do to win. Like I said, I've known Ruben for a long time. We have a good relationship. We trust each other. With that said, I wasn't uncomfortable."
"We had some conversations about what the future was going to be like for him," Amaro echoed. "I have a great deal of respect for Chase. We have an open relationship. I've known him for a long time. The goal ended up being the same. This is what we both wanted."
So they reached an agreement on a relatively creative contract that is profitable for Utley if he stays healthy, but fair for the Phillies if he is not.
A source told MLB.com he will make a guaranteed $27 million, but as much as $75 million. He will be paid $15 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015.
The deal includes a $2 million buyout.
"When Ruben first approached me about an extension, I told him I was up for it," Utley said. "I wanted to stay in this uniform, but I also wanted to be treated fairly. I'm not trying to break the bank; I'm just trying to be treated fairly in the marketplace. It's a very fair deal for both sides. Like Ruben said, going to free agency, maybe I left a little bit of money on the table with this deal. But it's not about the money. It's about the commitment. There is no better place to play than here."
Utley can earn an extra $5 million in 2015 if he is not on the disabled list for more than 15 days with a specific knee issue. He then has three vesting options based on 500 plate appearances. For example, if Utley reaches 500 plate appearances in 2015 he will make a guaranteed $15 million in 2016. The same holds true for 2016 and 2017. If Utley hits the 500 mark in any of those seasons, but finishes the year on the disabled list he must pass a physical that states he will be able to start the following season healthy for the option to vest.
If Utley is healthy, 500 plate appearances are a cinch. But he has not had 500 plate appearances in a season since he had 511 in 2010.
The Phillies can bring back Utley on a club option, even if he does not reach the 500-plate appearance threshold. That option can be at one of four levels: $5 million, $7 million, $9 million or $11 million. Each level is based on days on the active roster. For example, if Utley is active for 125 days he would receive $11 million the following season. The fewer active days he spends on the roster, the less the option.
Utley said he is confident in his ability to stay healthy.
"Over the past year and a half, ever since I came back last year, I've felt pretty good," he said. "Obviously, I have a routine that works for me. Obviously, I will continue to do that. As you get older you learn things about your body. I may need to make a few adjustments over time, but obviously I'm willing to put that time and effort in. I gave them a little bit of security as far as the second year of the deal. The whole thing isn't fully guaranteed. There's some money I have to earn, and that involves my knees. I feel confident I have put that behind me. As far as the vesting options, I have to be on the field, I have to be fairly productive, I have to stay healthy and obviously be a little lucky as well."
Utley does not have a full no-trade clause in the contract because he automatically receives a full no-trade right as a 5-and-10 player in a couple weeks.
But it doesn't sound like he will need to invoke it anyway. The Phillies could have tried to trade Utley before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but Amaro made it clear he planned to keep him in a Phillies uniform.
Of course, what does Utley see that some fans might not? The Phillies have taken a step back each of the previous two seasons, but Utley has said repeatedly in recent weeks he sees reasons to be optimistic.
"I think it all starts with our ownership group," he said. "They're willing to do what they need to do to put a product on the field. They want to win just as bad as we do. We've had some great times over the past seven or eight years. I truly believe we can get back to where we were. I think a good indication of that is today. You got to see some guys play some pretty good baseball with Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, they're a part of this organization's future. I'm excited to watch them continue to improve. I feel like they have a lot to offer on the baseball field. Obviously, we need to get better. I think we have some pieces that can move us in that direction.
"This is something that, no matter what happens, I'm not going to regret. I've talked to some guys that have played here and moved onto other organizations. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I'm excited. I'm happy to be still a Phillie, and hopefully a Phillie for another five years."