The Philadelphia Phillies stood atop the proverbial baseball mountain in 2008, captained by a group of homegrown, core athletes led by second baseman and fan-favorite Chase Utley, and it certainly feels like a long time ago.
Two years earlier, legendary Phillies' broadcaster Harry Kalas had dubbed Utley "The Man," and by proxy, the silent, hard-working face of this rejuvenated franchise. The club's faithful fans jumped right on board. The UCLA product has been the embodiment of the fighting spirit that Philadelphia holds so proudly since draft day in 2000.
Back then, to believe that there would come a time when the Philadelphia Phillies were faced with a realistic possibility of having to trade Chase Utley, well, it was lunacy. He is the face of the franchise—a fan-favorite and among the elite of his position.
As the trade deadline rounds into focus in 2013, however, that scenario has become all too real.
The reasoning behind trading Utley is sound. While there is a widespread belief that the Phillies' farm system has improved over the last few seasons, it is still without top tier prospects. Moving a player as valuable as Utley would certainly help to change that.
One of the thinnest positions in all of baseball, more than a handful of legitimate contenders would jump at the prospect of acquiring Utley, who is more than an excellent second baseman, but also a weathered, experienced veteran.
With second basemen Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez both on the major league doorstep down in Triple-A, the Phillies have a pair of capable "prospects" ready (at least defensively) to take over for the second half of the regular season.
And yet, the idea of trading Utley is still a foreign one for Phillies fans. This is a man that helped drag this team out of obscurity; led the conquest back to the World Series. A new generation of sports fans in Philadelphia were born with Utley's now famous "26" emblazoned upon their backs.
He has become a prominent member of the Philadelphia community. As one of the area's leading animal rights activists, Utley is a celebrity in every sense of the word—minus all of the attention and publicity stunting that often comes with the territory.
Stepping away from the baseball scene for just a moment, it becomes clear that Utley is more than a member of the Phillies. After 13 seasons in the organization, he is firmly entrenched as part of the community, and Philadelphia is not a city that trades one of its own with ease.
The prospect of losing Utley for good haunts Phillies fans, but it doesn't have to be that way.
To bring this story back to baseball, the Phillies have become a team that needs to trade Utley. They need to "re-tool"—trade their valuable assets for younger, more controllable pieces who've yet to reach their ceiling.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, rich in payroll but lacking in top tier prospects, would love to get their hands on Utley, a product of southern California. So too would another pair of California teams. Utley would give the San Francisco Giants an offensive boost and present a sizeable upgrade for the Oakland Athletics.
The promising Baltimore Orioles could use an insurance policy for the oft-injured Brian Roberts, just recently reinstated from the disabled list, while the New York Yankees, in spite of having the best second baeman in the game already on their roster, could use several upgrades in several positions.
And those are just the obvious teams. Utley is the kind of player with the potential to transform a team from "contender" to "World Series favorite," and those guys are players that teams will flip top prospects for.
To make trading Utley worthwhile, the Phillies would need to receive the value of a first round draft pick—a pick that the club would receive should they make Utley a qualifying offer, subsequently turned down by the player, following the season.
That should not be a problem. The real challenge is selling this kind of deal to a fan base that has fallen in love with Utley, and the easiest method of doing so is not closing any doors. Trading Utley now and attempting to re-sign him are not mutually exclusive options.
The Phillies, easily one of baseball's payroll goliaths, are not going to blow their team up at the deadline in the traditional sense of the phrase—selling anything possible for the sake of starting over. Instead, they will be selling off valuable assets with the hope of conteding in 2014. Think of the transition that the Boston Red Sox made from 2012 to 2013.
When you look at the Phillies' second base situation, Utley is expendable now, yes. Trading him should land the club at least one top prospect and allow either Galvis or Hernandez to play every day at the major league level.
If the Phillies and Chase Utley are as committed to each other as history suggests, a trade would not be the end of the road for one of the greatest players in franchise history. Instead, it would be a new beginning; a chance to freshen up the roster and make another run at the World Series as a member of the Phillies.
Having played for one organization throughout his career, Utley is not going to blindly accept an extension with another team. Should he become a free agent tomorrow, the Phillies would be the favorite.
Utley is a professional athlete. These plyers understand that Major League Baseball is more than a game. It's also a business. A trade is not often the severing of a bond, but a business deal geared towards the future.
If the Phillies trade Utley this summer, there is no reason to believe that it is not entirely possible that he is their Opening Day second baseman in 2014, and both sides will have become better because of it.
The truth is simple. No fan is going to remember the few months that Utley spent wearing a Dodgers, or a Giants, or an Athletics cap back in the summer of 2013 when he stands proudly as the club hangs his plaque on the Phillies' Wall of Fame many years in the future.
They're going to remember the sacrifice and loyalty that he showed to the club by accepting a trade and rejoining the team months later; two of the attributes that made him a fan-favorite and, as Kalas so succinctly put it, "The Man."