Utley signs 1-year, $7M deal with Dodgers
Clubhouse chemistry a factor in return of veteran, who is eyeing starting job at second
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chase Utley turns 37 next week but sounds ready to fight off the kids for the Dodgers' starting second-base job in 2016.
"At this time of the year, I've spent a lot of time to prepare to play as many games as possible," Utley said on Wednesday after the Dodgers officially announced the free agent would return on a one-year deal, previously reported for $7 million.
Utley said returning to the Dodgers "was an easy decision" and starting is "obviously my goal in my preparation, and we'll see what happens. I like to play as much as possible."
Utley could compete with youngsters Kiké Hernandez and Jose Peraza at second base while providing insurance at third base, where starter Justin Turner is coming off serious microfracture left knee surgery. Utley said his only communication with new manager Dave Roberts is by text, and his role hasn't been defined.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman didn't promise Utley that the job is his, although it could be his to lose.
"It's more about adding Chase and what he does on and off field," said Friedman. "Obviously we feel good about where J.T. is, but he's coming off surgery. We've got young guys we're excited about, but adding a guy like Chase, his professional at-bat, his defense, the versatility that he is, added to his resume, what he brings off the field, the intangibles, the baserunning."
While Utley's rapid acclimation to third base filling in for Turner could lead to a versatile utility role that includes first base, Utley implied he's not ready for a bench job, and the salary is an indicator that management agrees.
"I still enjoy playing baseball, and I feel like I bring some things to the table to help a ballclub," he said. "I will sit with Dave and chat and see where it goes."
Utley was acquired by Los Angeles from Philadelphia on Aug. 19 in exchange for Minor Leaguers Darnell Sweeney and John Richy. He batted .202 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Dodgers. He's a six-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger winner.
Hampered by ankle inflammation early last season, Utley hit only .212 with eight homers and 39 RBIs overall. Howie Kendrick, now a free agent, hit .295 with nine homers and 54 RBIs as the Dodgers' starting second baseman in 2015.
Friedman said injuries led to mechanical flaws in Utley's swing that were eliminated once he healed.
"We did a lot of work on him before acquiring him, and before he went on the DL he struggled mightily," said Friedman. "When he came back, he had a lot more success and there were differences in the swing. When you have something going on in the lower half, it affects the kinetic chain, the mechanics were a little off, and when he came back, he got back to who he was with the ability to impact the ball."
While chemistry in the Dodgers' clubhouse seems to be a perpetual topic of controversy, Utley said "I thought it was very good," and that was a factor in his return.
"I got to know a bunch of the guys, and they are not only good players but good guys," he said. "The amount of talent there and within the organization is pretty special, and those are the reasons I want to participate with them again."
Utley still has a two-game suspension and appeal pending for his takeout slide that broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the postseason. He said he does not know when the appeal will be heard.
"I made a hard, aggressive slide to break up a double play in a playoff game," he said. "It's not fair to comment any more [until the appeal is heard]."