http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/conten...1/c1783475.jsp

01/21/2007 11:15 AM ET
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley exchanged marriage vows with his fiancée on Saturday afternoon in San Francisco.

A day later, the All-Star second baseman made a similar long-term commitment to the Phillies, agreeing to a seven-year, $85 million contract that will keep him in Philadelphia through the 2013 season. Though Utley will make less annually up front and more toward the end, this deal averages a little more than $12 million a season.

"We view Chase as not only a great second baseman but also one of the top 10-15 players in the game," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. "He's a hard-nosed, full-throttle player who exemplifies the spirit of Philadelphia. He is tailor-made for this city and we couldn't be happier to lock him up for years to come."

The contract eliminates the sometimes messy process of salary arbitration, when teams exchange figures and either agree on a number or have a salary determined by an independent arbitrator. Last week, Utley submitted a figure of $6.25 million, while the Phillies offered $4.5 million, the third-largest gap between player and team.

This pact covers Utley's three years of arbitration eligibility and delays his possible free agency for four years, keeping him in red pinstripes for a long time. 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.

There is precedent for such an agreement. 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.

National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard will likely read about Utley's contract with great interest, as he is eligible for arbitration 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.