Cardinals should make deal for Phils' Utley

News-DemocratJune 10, 2014 

If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to right their ship and make a strong push for the playoffs, I think it's time for the team to find its next veteran import.

This club has tons of talent but seems to lack direction and perspective. It's prone to long slumps and series of bad games because its running on emotion instead of experience.

They need a guy to fill the Carlos Beltran-Lance Berkman-Larry Walker role to provide some veteran grit to the Birds' play. A tough, old cowboy who knows when to use the whip and when the young hands could use a pat on the back. It wouldn't be a bad thing to have another bat to add to the mix, either.

One guy who might fill that bill is Philadelphia Phillies infielder Chase Utley, who is having a big season for a club that is going nowhere.

Utley is hitting .314 with a .371 on-base percentage. While he has hit only four homers in Philadelphia's cozy ballpark, he has cranked 24 doubles -- one fewer than his total for all of 2013. He'd sure look nice in the second spot of the Cardinals order, a weak spot all season.

At 35 years old and a veteran of 12 seasons, Utley has been through the wars. He has played in 46 post-season games including 11 World Series contests and has a .262 average, 10 homers and 25 RBIs in the playoffs.

Several news outlets in Philadelphia have reported that Utley either is already on the block or at least that he should be. So the questions are: What would it take to land him and where would he play if the Cardinals could pick him up?

St. Louis has a lot of talent to burn with too many young players at or near the major league level and not enough positions to give them all the playing time they deserve. But this team can't give up the jewels of the farm system to gamble on a 35-year-old player with a big contract.

Utley has primarily been a second baseman throughout his career. But he has played some first base, too. The Cardinals have prospect Kolten Wong at second. First base is even more crowded with Allen Craig and Matt Adams fighting over the position after the arrival of Oscar Taveras in right field.

Someone who is pretty important to the Birds' future plans would likely have to go to make room for Utley, who has a contract through at least next season, to play. It seems the club would likely have to give up on Wong, a low-cost player for which the team has high hopes, to make an Utley deal possible.

I'm not sure if the club is ready to do that.

Utley makes $15 million this year, of which slightly less than $10 million currently remains. He will be paid $10 million to $15 million next season, the higher total if he spends less than 15 days on the disabled list this year with knee-related injuries, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. He has vesting options that could keep him employed from 2016 through 2018 should he make 500 plate appearances the previous season.

That's a big-time gamble. Still, it looks like the Cardinals must do something to improve the intensity and the chemistry of this club if its going to make a push. Otherwise it seems that they're going to have to be content to stand pat, let the chips fall where they may, and to give the current players a chance to add a year of experience under their belts in hopes of doing better next season.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at 239-2626 or squerz@bnd.com. You can read his fan blog "View From the Cheap Seats" daily at www.bnd.com/cheapseats. Follow @scottwuerz on twitter.

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