Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Sarah's Take: Re-signing Utley was right move

Veteran has been a valuable piece of Los Angeles' early-season success
MLB.com

For the first three weeks of the season, Chase Utley has been the MVP of his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many people questioned why the team would re-sign 37-year-old second baseman Chase Utley, who appeared to be near the end of his career. So far this season, the signing of Utley has been huge for the Dodgers. He has played in 18 or 20 games, and he is hitting .314.

When Utley graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, the Dodgers drafted him. But Utley chose to go to UCLA, where he became a star. Then he was drafted in 2000 by the Philadelphia Phillies. Since his Major League debut in April 2003, Utley has been a star, earning six All-Star berths, and he was a valuable member of the 2008 World Series championship Phillies.

For the first three weeks of the season, Chase Utley has been the MVP of his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many people questioned why the team would re-sign 37-year-old second baseman Chase Utley, who appeared to be near the end of his career. So far this season, the signing of Utley has been huge for the Dodgers. He has played in 18 or 20 games, and he is hitting .314.

When Utley graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, the Dodgers drafted him. But Utley chose to go to UCLA, where he became a star. Then he was drafted in 2000 by the Philadelphia Phillies. Since his Major League debut in April 2003, Utley has been a star, earning six All-Star berths, and he was a valuable member of the 2008 World Series championship Phillies.

Though not known for speed, Utley is an intelligent baserunner. He knows when to take the extra base and when to stay put. When Utley runs the bases, he makes sharp turns to shorten the distance, enabling him to go farther on a hit.

Utley's aggressiveness gained national attention during the postseason last year and led to a rule change that has made the game safer for middle infielders. From an early age, baseball players have been taught to break up double plays any way they can, and this was what Utley did during the National League Division Series against the New York Mets. Though his slide was a legal one, it was late and it resulted in a broken leg for Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. The next day, Utley was suspended.

Major League Baseball elected to study the situation over the offseason. With the heightened desire to protect players from serious injury, MLB chose to change the rule.

As part of the Phillies' rebuilding process, Utley was traded to Los Angeles last August. His presence was felt immediately by the Dodgers. Utley helped to improve the Dodgers' baserunning and increased his new team's intensity. He became a clubhouse leader. Soon after joining the Dodgers, both Howie Kendrick and Enrique Hernandez strained hamstrings, so Utley became the everyday second baseman.

After the 2015 season, many Dodgers fans believed Hernandez would be the everyday second baseman unless the team re-signed Kendrick. They didn't think the Dodgers needed Utley, whose best days seemed to be behind him. The front office wanted him to be a reserve player who could provide leadership, though. Utley's willingness to play other positions impressed them.

During Spring Training, Utley played second and third base, as well as left field, and he performed well everywhere he played. When Kendrick was injured, Utley became the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter for the first time in his career. He has been fantastic in the leadoff position.

Utley's defense also has been impressive. He has made countless superb plays that have prevented runs from scoring.

The most important thing about Utley is he has earned the respect of his teammates. Both Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner said if they have sons, they want them to play baseball like Utley. On Sunday, Utley drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth. It seems every time the Dodgers have needed a boost this season, Utley has provided it.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Chase Utley