Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Utley is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That sentence was unthinkable a few years ago, but now it’s a reality.

On Wednesday, the Dodgers completed a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, packaging prospects Darnell Sweeney and John Richy to acquire Utley. The Pasadena native and UCLA alumnus will finally don the Dodger blue after being drafted by the team in the second round of the 1997 draft.

When Howie Kendrick was placed on the 15-day disabled list on August 10 with a strained left hamstring, the original plan was to give Kiké Hernandez and newly-acquired prospect Jose Peraza a share of the reps at second base. However, the front office had an opportunity to upgrade the roster at a minimal cost and did just that.

Though Utley is statistically in the midst of his worst season ever, he has torn the cover off the ball since being activated from the disabled list on August 7. In 33 plate appearances (eight games), he is slashing .484/.485/.742 with five doubles and a home run.

Earlier in the year, Utley battled through right ankle inflammation, which undoubtedly hindered his offensive production during the first half of the season (.179/.257/.275 in 249 plate appearances). Now that he’s fully healthy again, he looks more like the player that was named to the All-Star team in 2014.

Perhaps most encouraging about Utley’s resurgence is how hard he’s hitting the ball. Since returning from the disabled list, his hard contact rate is 48 percent and his average exit velocity is 94.33 MPH, both numbers being well above Major League average.

Utley will slot in as the primary starting baseman until Kendrick returns, but could see some time at first base and third base as well. It also helps that the Dodgers play six more games in American League ballparks this season, enabling him to see some time as a designated hitter.

Over the course of 13 seasons, Utley has enjoyed playing in Chavez Ravine, too:

While Hernandez has done a tremendous job filling in at second base (.375/.444/.607 in his last 63 plate appearances), his true value is his versatility that allows him to start at almost any position on a given night. When Jimmy Rollins needs a breather, he can start in place for him at shortstop; when Joc Pederson needs a day off against a tough left-handed pitcher, he can fill in for him in center field.

On days when Utley doesn’t start, especially when Kendrick returns, his bat off the bench is a massive upgrade over the likes of Alberto Callaspo and Alex Guerrero. In fact, the former was designated for assignment to make room for Utley on the roster. During his tenure with the Dodgers, Callaspo slashed a rather weak .260/.336/.301 in 138 plate appearances, though he provided solid defense as a late-inning defensive replacement.

With rosters expanding in less than two weeks, the Dodgers will have the luxury of carrying both Utley and Kendrick without having to make a corresponding move. This allows Kendrick to slowly be eased back into games with little-to-no pressure, not to mention he will have ample time to completely heal from his tricky hamstring injury.

And should the Dodgers make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, there are few players who have had more success in October than Utley has. In 46 career postseason games, he owns a .902 OPS with ten home runs and 18 extra-base hits. Whether he starts in games or is utilized as a pinch-hitter, having a player with that kind of success should only benefit the team.

If Utley proves that his awful first half of the season was just a blip on the radar, the Dodgers could ultimately decide to exercise his $15 million option for next season and include him on the 2016 roster. But for the meantime, let’s just embrace the fact that Utley now plays for the Dodgers. It was long overdue, but worth the wait.

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About The Author

Matt is a former staff writer and editorialist at Dodgers Nation. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattdodgerblue

8 Responses

  1. Steve G

    The Dodgers gave up very little to acquire Utley, which is great. And the article gives legitimate reasons why it was a good acquisition. However, there is a glaring need that the management is not dealing with appropriately – the bullpen. The terrible pen was a major factor in last year’s collapse. It has been bad this year and, at times, simply atrocious. The trade deadline acquisitions have been disapointing. They need bullpen help badly. I know they like making moves that don’t cost anything important and I appreciate what they’ve done to retool the McCourt depleted minor leagues. But if they don’t do something to fix the bullpen, Utley is not going to help them enough.

    Reply
  2. Manny

    I get it, if you can’t fix the bullpen. Get bats, score more runs then your pen gives up, get to far ahead they can’t catch up….hmmmmm

    Reply
    • DodgerBlueThru&Thru

      Yup, it works for Toronto apparently, but not so much for our boys in blue. Not when Johnson gives up 8 runs in two-thirds of an inning!

      Reply
  3. KenBland

    From the article…If Utley proves that his awful first half of the season was just a blip on the radar, the Dodgers could ultimately decide to exercise his $15 million option for next season and include him on the 2016 roster. ”
    To which I say wow. You’re gonna take a guy who fails to vest for a guaranteed 15 mil, and generously pay that money to him? For what will be 37 years old, and I might add, pre ankle injury, he had a very ineffective second half of 2014. You wanna load up on incentives and take your chances on his holding up, and playing well, the man’s greatness at least increases the feasibility of that, but no way can you delude yourself into believing he’s the player he was. He won’t get an offer for anywhere close to 15 mil even with incentives adding up from any other team.

    Reply
    • KenBland

      I stand corrected on my point, although in review, the point I contested here about spending 15 mil on Utley is irrelevant. I’m told by a blogger who seems to typically do thorough research that…

      Since Utley’s option won’t vest, this clause comes into effect (from the Cot’s database linked below): “if option does not vest, it becomes a club option valued between $5M & $11M, based on days on disabled list in previous season” I haven’t seen any formula for how the exact cost of the option would be determined. The Dodgers can decline that club option and instead exercise the $2M buyout. So it will become a question as to whether they want to spend an additional $3M – $9M (the difference between 5 to 11 and the $2M buyout), in order to keep Utley. That’s still a fair chuck of change, but at least it’s not $15M.

      Reply

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