"Chase is a special individual," Gillick said. "We think it was a fair contract for both parties and a win-win situation. Even through we're not particularly fond of
long-term deals, there are exceptions to the rule and Chase is one of them. We're fortunate to have someone like Chase.
"We view Chase as one of the game's elite players," added assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
The deal eliminates the sometimes messy process of arbitration, when teams exchange figures and either meet somewhere in the middle or have a salary determined by
an independent arbitrator. Last week, Utley submitted an amount of $6.25 million, while the Phillies offered $4.5 million, the third-largest gap between player and team.
A Major League source with knowledge of the talks said Utley received a $2 million signing bonus and will be paid $4.5 million in 2007, $7.5 million in 2008, $11 million in 2009 and $15 million in each of the final four seasons. It also includes a limited no-trade clause. Utley earned $500,000 in 2006.
By agreeing to a pact, the Phillies buy out Utley's three arbitration years and delay his possible free agency for another four years. Without such a deal, Utley could've been a free agent after the 2009 season.
The trade-off for Utley is that he sacrifices some earning potential for the security against injuries or a decline in production. Had he maintained his production level over the next three years, he likely would've earned more than this deal's annual value, but it also could have gone the other way. He'll be 35 at the end of this contract.
But getting every last dollar isn't what Utley's about.
"He really has taken to Philadelphia," said Arn Tellem, Utley's agent. "Even though he was born and raised in California, he feels he's a Philadelphian now. This is
where he wants to finish his career, and hopefully go down in same breath as great Phillies like Mike Schmidt. It was a very easy decision for him.
"For Chase, it was never about being the highest paid player and maximizing every dollar," Tellem added. "Security was very important. It's a risky position and everybody knows how he plays. This gives him comfort level. It's not going to change him. Now he can focus on playing as hard as he can and the main objective, which is bringing a World Series to Philadelphia."
In 2006, Utley emerged as Major League Baseball's premier offensive second baseman, clubbing 32 homers and driving in 102 runs, while scoring 131 times. He also fashioned a 35-game hitting streak, the longest streak of the season and second-longest streak in team history.
"He's a hard-nosed, full-throttle player who exemplifies the spirit of Philadelphia," Amaro said. "He is tailor-made for this city."
Fans had been talking about Utley since he was a first-round draft pick in 2000, and cheering him since he made his Major League debut early in 2003. He foreshadowed his greatness when he hit a grand slam for his first hit on April 24, 2003, and then he went on from there.
"A lot of people consider Chase a leader, and they're right," catcher Chris Coste said. "He leads us on the field."
That's why you'll always see Utley sprinting hard down the line on routine grounders, barreling into catchers and diving for any ball within a mile's reach. He simply thinks he can get it and is going to at least try. The story about a teenage Utley hitting in a batting cage until his hands bled has been told often. All those
hours made him a star at Long Beach Polytechnic High and then at UCLA.
Success hasn't changed Utley. He simply doesn't know any other way. While it's easy to read a game recap and determine that Ryan Howard's home run won a game, there
are times when it only became possible because Utley beat out a potential inning-ending double play or didn't give up on an infield hit.
"I don't understand how not to play hard," Utley said during the 2006 season. "It's not a concept I get. By hustling, you make a lot of things happen."
The Phillies want that kind of personality leading their charge, and they will pay him accordingly. With Howard, who will go through the same process next winter, Utley
is the embodiment of the aggressive, hard-nosed style that was obvious after the All-Star break.
Philadelphia has three-quarters of its infield locked up through at least 2010. Howard is under contract until 2011, Jimmy Rollins through 2010 (the club has an option for 2011) and Utley through 2013.
"That's a good nucleus," Gillick said, also citing young lefty Cole Hamels. "To have the core of your club under contract is a great start, as far as being able to add to it later."
There is precedent for an agreement such as Utley's. Entering his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2004, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols inked a seven-year, $100 million extension, also avoiding the arbitration process. That came a year after St. Louis gave the slugging first baseman a $900,000 pact, a then-record one-year deal for a third-year player.
Howard, the National League MVP, will likely read about Utley's contract with great interest, as he begins this process after the 2007 season. If the Phillies don't signed Howard to a long-term deal this winter, he'll still likely break Pujols' $900,000 mark.
The Phillies have two arbitration-eligible players remaining -- pitchers Brett Myers and Geoff Geary -- and they will likely finalize those deals before exploring any kind of extension for Howard. Gillick declined to discuss Howard.
"Today, the focus is on Chase," Gillick said. "We think the world of Ryan. He's a wonderful talent and a wonderful kid, and there will be a day that he's rewarded. It might be this year, and it might be down the line."
Amaro did warn any other Phillies who might be planning nuptials.
"On behalf of the Philadelphia Phillies, the other players coming up behind Chase should not expect this for a wedding gift in the future," he said with a laugh.