(Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
As there’s exactly 30 days remaining before pitchers and catchers show up for spring camp in Glendale, the Dodgers have only two left-handed hitting second base options that are anywhere near the big league level—Willie Calhoun, who hasn’t even gotten his feet wet at the Triple-A, and Jose Miguel Fernandez, a Cuban infielder who signed last week for $200,000 and probably hasn’t yet arrived stateside. In the meantime, Chase Utley is still lurking in the dark corners of the free agent market, while many fans of the Boys in Blue continue to wonder if he’ll be part of the squad in 2017.
After the talks with the Twins regarding second baseman Brian Dozier reached an official impasse last week, many pundits believe that the front office crew of the Dodgers has moved on to alternate plans, which could conceivably include trade negotiations surrounding Ian Kinsler of the Tigers and Logan Forsythe of the Rays. Yet as far as options go internally, Los Angeles has Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor, who both bat from the right side of the dish, but aren’t overwhelmingly exuberant choices, especially from the standpoint of offense. There’s no telling yet what the Dodgers have scored in Fernandez, and it’s really difficult at this point to calculate an ETA for Calhoun, who seems to be on the fast track considering his recent non-roster invite to big league spring training.
A prospective deal with Utley possibly ranks towards the bottom of the list when addressing the needs at the keystone, as many folks wonder precisely how much production is left in the 38-year-old’s tank. Utley admirably filled the leadoff role for the bulk of the 2016 season against right-handed pitching, having hit .264/.329/.416 in 112 games when hitting at the top of the lineup. Although both his sophistication and perseverance at the dish were very key in the club’s success last year, Utley’s slash line against lefties, .154/.206/.264, suggests his offensive game is fading just a tad after hitting .254/.357/.439 in more than 2200 plate appearances against southpaws over his 14-year career.
But while his defensive range may be declining with his age, his glove continues to remain stellar. And his leadership skills and examples of work ethic alone could be worth a $5-6 million dollar deal if the front office crew decides to consider the traditional intangibles instead of relying strictly on sabermetric figures. In addition, skipper Dave Roberts continues to make his compelling case to sign Utley public almost any chance he gets. All that said, if the club does indeed go with a rough plan of platooning say Utley and Hernandez to begin the season, it’s tough to guess if that particular combination has the firepower to produce with their bats, as Utley would get the lion’s share of reps considering Hernandez’s struggles against right-handed pitching.
Andrew Friedman‘s management team has already shown that they’re not afraid to play inexperienced youngsters at the major league level, and in the same breath, that they’re not afraid to DFA or trade away a highly reputable veteran who is on the decline. If the Dodgers intend to be more aggressive when the trade deadline approaches in July, why not go with a floating rotation of youngsters until a better option surfaces, rather than potentially kicking Utley to the curb when the stretch run of the regular season arrives in the fall?
In the end, though, even if the front office intends on offering Utley a deal, there still remains the chore of creating roster space, which was made evident when the club outrighted infielder Charlie Culberson to re-sign Justin Turner, in addition to shipping Micah Johnson off to the Braves when space was needed to officially bring back Kenley Jansen.
While there’s no doubt that Utley is extremely popular among the general fan base, all of us here at TBPC would like to know what the readers of this blog think about signing him to a final one-year contract. Please feel free to chime into the comment section below, or give us a yell on our Twitter or Facebook feeds.