I have made no secret of my lack of enthusiasm with the Oakland Athletics middle infield situation. Jed Lowrie has been nothing short of spectacular in his first season with the A’s, but whoever his counterpart between Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard in the middle infield has been on any given day has left much to be desired. While I’ve intensely advocated giving Jemile Weeks, Grant Green, or Hiroyuki Nakajima a chance to show what they can do, there doesn’t seem to be any urgency within the organization to give any of them that shot. So while they toil away in Sacramento, perhaps an even more intriguing option could be found on the trade market, Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies.
At one point Utley was the clear cut premier second baseman in baseball, but injuries and age have deteriorated his skills. With Utley’s decline, so have the fortunes of the Phillies. Utley is a free agent after this season, and could very well be readily available. Utley does possess 10 and 5 rights for having 10 years in the league and 5 with the same team, those rights grant him a full no trade clause. He is owed the remainder of his $15 million salary for 2013, so how much money the Phillies have to pay of that remaining money would dictate the quality of their return.
There is no doubt that Eric Sogard has captured the hearts of many A’s fans, he plays hard and hustles on every play, and of course sports the spectacles that are atypical for a professional athlete. I don’t put much stock into things like that, but I understand how that can make him a fan favorite. Unfortunately being a fan favorite doesn’t help the team win games. Sogard is not a bad baseball player, but he is not a starting caliber player either, at least not on a team with playoff aspirations, let alone World Series hopes. I’m focusing on him here because he’s the one who would be replaced with an acquisition such as Chase Utley. His supporters laud his defensive skills, his detractors decry his complete lack of power. As of this moment he’s hitting .266/.345/.339 without a home run, he does have 11 doubles and 1 triple. This all comes in 200 plate appearances, so it’s a strong sample size. He’s a capable hitter, able to get on base at a roughly average rate, but still doesn’t pack a punch.
I know RBI is a stat that is really not a reliable measure of a player’s productivity, but there are some occasions where it is significant. Sogard has all of 9 RBI on the entire season. All circumstances aside, we are half way through the season and he has driven in 9 runs. I for one want a little more offensive production in my lineup. That’s why I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense perhaps for a lot more offense. That’s what Utley can bring to the table.
While Chase is a shell of his former self, and is by no means a sure thing, the simple fact that he can impact a game with his bat still holds significance. Utley is hitting .284/.350/.523 with 11 home runs this year in 220 plate appearances. He gets on base at a slightly higher rate than Sogard, and supplies tremendously higher power. Sogard may not be hurting the team, but he isn’t helping the team as much as they need him to. Whether the injection of offense comes from an acquisition like Utley, or a call up from Sacramento, it needs to happen if this team wants to take their game to the next level.