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Robinson Cano’s latest PED bust could boost Chase Utley’s eventual Hall of Fame chances | Extra Innings

Without the cheating, Cano would have gone down as the best second baseman of his era. If it was all a sham, that crown belongs to Utley.

Former Phillies second baseman Chase Utley raised his arms at second base during his retirement ceremony at Citizens Bank Park in 2019.
Former Phillies second baseman Chase Utley raised his arms at second base during his retirement ceremony at Citizens Bank Park in 2019.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It’s December 3. Do you know who the Phillies’ head of baseball operations is?

At the risk of dating myself with a parody of the public service announcement that once preceded the late local news, it’s a valid question. The Phillies have talked to Josh Byrnes, the Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president of baseball operations; former Miami Marlins executive Michael Hill reportedly has interviewed, too. There are surely other candidates in a search that the team has kept private.

But the annual winter meetings would’ve been held next week in Dallas if not for the coronavirus pandemic, the rival Atlanta Braves are already signing free-agent pitchers, and the New York Mets’ new owner is plotting how to spread his massive wealth.

The Phillies? They’re still putting together the front office. Catcher and shortstop will come later, apparently.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies offseason. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.

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Cano’s fall could elevate Utley’s Hall of Fame chances

Robinson Cano has 2,624 career hits, 334 home runs, an .896 OPS, one World Series ring, and a 0% chance to make the Hall of Fame.

Cano’s Cooperstown candidacy took a hit in 2018 when he tested positive for a banned substance and got suspended for 80 games. But after another positive test, this time for the steroid Stanozolol, was revealed last month, he will sit out 2021 and forfeit his $24 million salary while the achievements of his 16-year career are called into question.

If not for all the cheating, Cano would have gone down as the best second baseman of his era. But if it was a sham, if Cano’s numbers were artificially inflated, that distinction could reasonably be transferred to Phillies icon Chase Utley.

Consider: Since 2003, when MLB began drug testing, only Cano has more doubles (534), homers (311), and RBIs (1,233) among second basemen than Utley (411 doubles, 259 homers, 1,025 RBIs). Utley is third in runs and fourth in hits. And his 64.4 wins above replacement are second to Cano (67.7) and well ahead of Ian Kinsler (55.6) and Dustin Pedroia (52.2).

Utley made his major-league debut in 2003. He played for 16 years, 13 with the Phillies, and retired after the 2018 season. He won’t appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for three more years, ample time for voters to consider his candidacy.

At first blush, Utley’s detractors will point to his 1,885 hits and note that no player who retired after 1959 has been elected to the Hall of Fame without getting at least 2,000.

Utley’s peak wasn’t long, either. From 2005 to 2010, he slashed .298/.388/.523 for a .911 OPS and averaged 35 doubles, 27 homers and 95 RBIs per year. But chronic knee problems caused a sharp downturn in his production in his mid-30s.

(After Cano’s numbers dipped in 2017, at age 34, he got popped for a diuretic that can be used to mask PED use.)

Asked in 2018 about his Hall of Fame chances, Utley said, “I played a while. I had some really good years. I had some not-so-good years. That’s not really for me to determine.”

Utley was 39 then, a part-time player/sage with the Dodgers. Last season, at 37, Cano appeared to have another renaissance with the Mets, batting .316 with an .896 OPS after a down year in 2019.

Perhaps now we know why.

The rundown

Just when you thought the Phillies might be done with Vince Velasquez, they offer the pitcher a contract for 2021. Get all the details from an active non-tender deadline.

Dick Allen was supposed to find out this weekend if he got elected to the Hall of Fame. Instead, the vote will be delayed one year. Matt Breen got the Hall’s explanation, which won’t satisfy Allen’s most ardent supporters.

Williamsport will no longer be a Phillies minor-league affiliate, but there will be baseball at historic Bowman Field next summer.

After the Phillies axed 80 employees last month, some of whom found out on the eve of Thanksgiving, Marcus Hayes had some thoughts for John Middleton.

Baseball America released its annual list of Phillies prospects, a particularly challenging undertaking in a year in which there was no minor-league season, as Bob Brookover writes.

I wanted to know more about new Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham, so I asked Derek Johnson, who coached Cotham at Vanderbilt before working with him in Cincinnati.

Important dates

Monday: Roberto Clemente Award winner announced, 2 p.m.

Tuesday: Hank Aaron Award winners announced, 2 p.m.

Jan. 26: Hall of Fame voting results announced, 6 p.m.

Feb. 27: Phillies’ spring-training opener vs. Blue Jays, COVID-permitting.

Stat of the day

It’s unclear what the Phillies’ claim of $145 million in lost revenue this year means for the player payroll. But it likely will be scaled back from 2020, when the club almost reached the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.

A quick look at where things stand, with all salaries calculated for luxury-tax purposes:

Including this week’s arbitration-avoiding agreements, the Phillies have roughly $107 million committed to 11 players for 2021: Bryce Harper ($25.385M), Zack Wheeler ($23.6M), Andrew McCutchen ($16.667M), Jean Segura ($14M), Aaron Nola ($11.25M), Hector Neris ($5M), Zach Eflin ($4.45M), Scott Kingery ($4M), Andrew Knapp ($1.1M), David Hale ($850,000), and Seranthony Dominguez ($727,500).

Rhys Hoskins and Velasquez could make a combined $9 million through arbitration. Despite no longer being on the 40-man roster, Odubel Herrera will make $6.1 million against the luxury tax, bringing the total to about $122 million.

Factor in at least $10 million for other 40-man roster players (including Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, Adam Haseley, and Roman Quinn) and $15 million for player benefits, and the Phillies are up to about $147 million before signing a free agent.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Answer: Good question, Kevin. Thanks. Lots of possibilities.

My money is on Segura, although the Phillies might prefer to unload the $29.5 million that he’s owed through 2022. Kingery can play shortstop, but profiles best as a second baseman. The Phillies could always re-sign Didi Gregorius, but it’s doubtful they will bring back both him and J.T. Realmuto.

It would get easier, of course, if they were able to trade Segura. Color me skeptical.

Answer: Patience, Tony. (And many thanks for the question.) It’s hard to believe, especially given the uncertain state of the front office, but the Phillies will sign players. Really.

For one thing, they have a bullpen to rebuild. If they lose Realmuto, they will have to sign a catcher. (Keep an eye on non-tendered Curt Casali, who played with new pitching coach Caleb Cotham at Vanderbilt.) They need another starting pitcher. Maybe a shortstop, too.

I don’t know (yet) who will be making the baseball decisions and how much money that person will have to spend. But I can guarantee the Phillies will sign some players before long.