Any minute now, Chase Utley could get traded. He cleared waivers yesterday, which will happen when you're 36 years old, owed $6.5 million, just came off the disabled list and are hitting .196. It's going to be difficult for the Phillies to trade him -- he has 10-and-5 no-trade rights, giving him veto power on where he goes -- but unless he wants to finish his career with a sad Phillies team rather than on a team that has a chance to go to the World Series like the Angels, Yankees, Cubs or Giants, he'll end up moving on.
This is a bigger deal than we can appreciate in the moment. Chase Utley has been a Phillie forever. His first at-bat was on April 4, 2003, in a game that featured Kenny Lofton, Pokey Reese, David Bell and Dan Plesac. When Utley made his MLB debut, the Phillies hadn't reached the postseason in a decade, and they had only been there twice in the last 20 years. Since he arrived, Philadelphia made the playoffs five times and reached the World Series twice, winning one of them, in 2008, the team's first title since 1980. Utley has been the signature Phillies player of one of the franchise's most fruitful periods. He is the Phillies. (He's fifth on the Phillies' all-time WAR leaderboard, too.) They even loved him on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." (Thankfully, he finally responded to poor Mac.)
And now he's about to be gone, wearing another team's uniform for the first time, finishing his career in unfamiliar surroundings, an odd blip at the end that we try to forget about but can't. One wonders if it's tempting for Utley to simply refused to be traded and go ahead and retire as a Phillie, never once soiled by being seen in another team's jersey. Because while opportunities to win a World Series are rare, spending your entire career in one jersey is even rarer. Currently, Utley is the active leader in plate appearances made for only one franchise, and he's 59th all-time, a designation he'll lose if he's shipped out by Aug. 31. This is something that's just not done anymore.
Of the 50 players with the most all-time plate appearances with one team, only six retired in the last five years: Derek Jeter, Craig Biggio, Chipper Jones, Todd Helton, Jeff Bagwell and Bernie Williams. Tim Salmon, who retired in 2006, is 52nd, Utley is 59th and David Wright, the guy who would take over Utley's spot as the active leader, is 60th. This is a measure of widespread player movement, of course, but it's also a measure of trades like the one Utley might accept: Giving a guy one more shot at a title at the end of his career, even if it's in a strange uniform. It's why Jimmy Rollins plays for the Dodgers now, and why Ryan Howard would play for anyone if he weren't so expensive. As much as you'd like to see Utley get one last shot, it will be a little sad to see him in a Cubs uniform, or Yankees jersey. Utley's a Phillie.
Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, I thought I'd take a look at the top 20 active players in plate appearances with only one team and see where they rank historically in the category … and how many years they may have left with their current teams before they go the way of Rollins and, maybe, Utley.
20. Ian Desmond, Nationals. 3,596 plate appearances (123rd all-time)
Desmond is a free agent after this season and is not having the best walk-year. He might be pricing himself back into the Nationals' plans.
19. Starlin Castro, Cubs. 3,622 plate appearances (122nd all-time)
Well, he has been bounced from the starting lineup and is now being moved to second base, a position that conceivably be manned by Utley soon. Don't expect Castro to be on this list much longer. It's sort of weird seeing him on it now.
18. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies. 3,635 plate appearances (121st all-time)
Chooch is actually still under contract for next season even though he's essentially sharing the starting job now and is hitting .215. Lots of Phillies on this list.
17. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. 4,282 plate appearances (114th all-time)
Key to Pittsburgh's success over the next decade will be nailing down McCutchen, who is signed through 2017 with a team-friendly 2018 option. He'll turn 29 in October, and the Pirates will do everything in his power to keep him a Pirate forever.
16. Jay Bruce, Reds. 4,395 plate appearances (111th all-time)
It was surprising the Reds didn't trade Bruce at the deadline, but he's still signed for 2016, with a $13 million club option in 2017. They might just trade him in the offseason.
15. Elvis Andrus, Rangers. 4,435 plate appearances (109th all-time)
His massive contract -- that just kicked in this year! -- will pay him $105 million through 2022. The Rangers might not have much success unloading that without taking on a ton of cash, so whether Texas likes it or not, he'll likely move up this list.
14. Joey Votto, Reds. 4,451 plate appearances (104th all-time)
They have him signed through 2023, but he has been one of the best players in baseball this season, and for a while, really. The Reds may completely rebuild over the next decade, but this is a solid fellow to do it around.
13. Evan Longoria, Rays. 4,574 plate appearances (103rd all-time)
He might not turn out to be the Hall of Famer many predicted, but he's certainly going to hold every Rays record by the time his contract runs out in 2022.
12. Erick Aybar, Angels. 4,606 plate appearances (101st all-time)
Look at you, Erick Aybar! It always seems like the Angels are just about to upgrade on Aybar but never do, and by the time his contract runs out after next season, he'll be in the top 10 of this list.
11. Alex Gordon, Royals. 4,708 plate appearances (98th all-time)
One of the top free-agent targets this winter, the Royals are going to have to pony up to keep him in Kansas City forever. It's going to be tough.
10. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox. 4,805 plate appearances (97th all-time)
Ramirez is another guy who has always seemed on the verge of being traded, but he's still here. Like the rest of you, I'll never hear his name again without thinking of this classic Hawk call.
9. Ryan Braun, Brewers. 5,119 plate appearances (92nd all-time)
He hasn't exactly bathed himself in glory the last few years, but he's back to being a solid, above-average player again. The Brewers will be paying him for it through 2020.
8. Andre Ethier, Dodgers. 5,253 plate appearances (88th all-time)
The Dodgers have been trying to trade Ethier for so long that it almost seems like he shouldn't be on this list out of principle. Yet here he is, having perhaps the best season of his career at the age of 33. He's got two more years on that Dodgers contract.
7. Yadier Molina, Cardinals. 5,451 plate appearances (81st all-time)
It's crazy to have a full-time catcher -- one who gets a day off a week at most -- on this list, but the Cardinals will do everything in their power to make sure Yadi retires a Cardinals. Worth noting: Molina is the active leader in both postseason games and plate appearances as well.
6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals. 5,476 plate appearances (79th all-time)
Mr. National -- he showed up right as the team left Montreal -- is signed through 2019. He has come on of late, but he's still batting only .232.
5. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. 5,494 plate appearances (77th all-time)
The laser show is having another solid year -- he has had an OPS-plus comfortably above 100 every year of his career -- and he's under contract through 2021. Might 15 be retired someday?
4. Joe Mauer, Twins. 6,033 plate appearances (65th all-time)
He's not an All-Star anymore, and he's not a catcher, but he's still a Twin. And as a Minnesota native, he likely will remain so. (They love that in the Twin Cities.) He's signed for three more years after this one.
3. Ryan Howard, Phillies. 6,075 plate appearances (64th all-time)
As mentioned: Howard may be a Phillie-for-life to the extreme chagrin of both player and team. Maybe not, though: His contract is up after next season, and you can imagine an AL team taking a cheap flyer on him as a DH at some point.
2. David Wright, Mets. 6,566 plate appearances (60th all-time)
Despite the mere eight games this season, he's the Mets' all-time leader in hits, runs, doubles, walks, strikeouts, at-bats and RBIs. (And he's only 21 behind Darryl Strawberry in homers.) And he may be back as soon as next week. If he can get back in the lineup on a regular basis, he'll be in Flushing through 2020.
1. Chase Utley, Phillies. 6,602 plate appearances (59th all-time)
If you're curious, also using Play Index, here are the top 20 active pitchers in Innings Pitched for just one team.
20. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
19. Lance Lynn, Cardinals
18. Chris Tillman, Orioles
17. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
16. Derek Holland, Rangers
15. Chris Sale, White Sox
14. Luke Hochevar, Royals
13. Homer Bailey, Reds
12. Jon Niese, Mets
11. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
9. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
8. John Danks, White Sox
7. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
6. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
5. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. Jared Weaver, Angels
3. Matt Cain, Giants
2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Hernandez is 25th on the all-time list, by the way. He'll need to have the career he's already had two more times to catch Walter Johnson's 5,914 1/3 innings.
The point is: It's a rare thing to wear one team's hat an entire career. Maybe Chase Utley wants to chase one last ring. Or maybe he just wants to keep that hat.