Statistically, second baseman Chase Utley by no means had a season which will highlight his long list of achievements in the baseball history books. Over 127 games in his 15th big league campaign, the UCLA product slashed .236/.324/.405 with eight home runs and 34 RBI for the Dodgers, basically as a secondary platoon partner to Logan Forsythe and often as a late-inning pinch hitter off the pine.
Some folks who are numbers crunchers wondered why the Dodgers brought Utley back for 2017 in the first place. However, his leadership in the Los Angeles clubhouse was critical in the club’s deep run into the 2017 postseason. Ask anybody who follows baseball what they think of Utley, and the first words usually murmured are “work ethic.” Even among opposing players, his reputation around the majors is unparalleled.
Before Utley rejoined the Dodgers last winter on a one-year deal, skipper Dave Roberts went on record calling him “his favorite player of all-time”—unquestionably a strong sentiment from a baseball guy who was always known for his own hard work on the field.
Utley was extremely instrumental in the maturation process of young shortstop Corey Seager. Before games, they always played catch together. Consequently, they are known to have similar post-game rituals. And, they even share nearly identical workouts in the offseason.
“I’m telling you, it’s his presence,” Seager said about Utley in October. “I don’t know. He just brings out something that can’t really be put into words until you see it first hand.”
Besides leading by example, the 39-year-old veteran’s communication skills are outstanding, especially when relating to his younger teammates, in addition to players who may drift out of line and show poor attitudes on or off the diamond.
“That’s the way I’ve always been,” Utley told Joseph Santoliquito of CBS Philly several years back. “I know I’m not the most gifted athlete in the world. I know I’ve gotten here through hard work. You ask anyone who knows me, I let my playing do my talking. If there is something I have to say, I know who I need to say it to, I don’t have to let anyone else outside know what’s said.”
A few weeks back, there were whispers about him possibly being interested in becoming the bench coach for manager Gabe Kapler and his former club, the Philadelphia Phillies, but Utley eventually squashed those rumors when he confirmed to reporters that he did indeed what to return to the field for a 16th season.
Kapler isn’t the only one who believes that Utley may have a future mentoring players. Towards the end of last season, when speculation began to circulate about the Long Beach native maybe retiring and wanting to coach, Dodgers’ boss Andrew Friedman did not hesitate to vehemently express his interest.
“Whenever that is, we will stalk him,” Friedman said. “We. Will. Stalk. Him.”
Looking ahead to next season, in an ideal situation, Utley is likely seeking a one-year deal with a club who is interested in his services as a part-time player, mainly as a left-handed first base or second base bat that occasionally starts against a right-handed pitcher and pinch hits. He’s probably commanding a salary somewhere in the $4 million range, a price which would not only reflect value in his production, but also for his guidance and influence in the locker room. There’s no question that he’d love to return to Los Angeles, but spots on the Dodgers’ 25-man and 40-man rosters are at such a premium right now, that the chances of that happening are very improbable.
In the meantime, folks everywhere who follow baseball wish nothing but the best for Utley, and hope to see him contribute on the field in 2018. For fans of the Dodgers, though, the desire for him to return to the organization in some capacity down the road will undoubtedly always hold true.
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