With Spring Training underway, attention is finally shifting from the slow offseason to player performance news, both good (Dustin May and D.J. Peters) and bad (Clayton Kershaw’s shoulder). By the time this article runs, there’s even a chance the team has finally won the drawn-out Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
Yet even with all that in mind, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate one of the story’s best (albeit low-key) storylines finally reaching a conclusion. According to Andrew Friedman, Chase Utley is set to assume a new role in the front office mere months after retiring as a player last fall. This move had been speculated since the Silver Fox suddenly dropped in at the Winter Meetings, making for the only other noteworthy headline aside from the Joe Kelly signing.
Without an official role determined yet, it may seem superfluous to rhapsodize about Utley joining the FO. But in my view, that actually doesn’t matter. Even if he’s given a meaningless, arbitrary role, it is still to the franchise’s benefit to have him around. On a practical level, though, it would be optimal to have him overseeing player development or supervising Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
If anything, a role like that would maintain continuity with his role as a player in L.A. When Utley was acquired in August 2015, he was expected to provide a veteran boost to a team in transition from the Colletti Era to the more analytics-driven Friedman one. Capping that year off with the notorious (albeit effective) takeout of Ruben Tejada, he proved to be just that. He got the winning RBI in game four of the 2016 NLDS, helping to rescue the team from first-round elimination hell. He followed that by aiding their first two World Series runs since 1988. Most importantly, he provided tough mentorship to young stars Corey Seager and Enrique Hernandez.
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This isn’t to attribute all of the team’s success the past few years solely to Utley. But it’s hard to envision it happening without his leadership all the same. Not to mention, we wouldn’t have the greatest baseball kitsch shirt ever without him.
This move also marks a full-circle for Utley’s story. A Long Beach native and UCLA alumnus who grew up a Dodgers fan, ending his playing career and moving to the front office with his native team makes for a perfect bookend. This of course isn’t to gloss over the fact that the bulk of his playing career was with Philadelphia, with whom he won a World Series and became the namesake of likely half the city’s population born between 2003 and 2015. But right now, he belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers as he likely always wanted, and that’s something to take pride in.
The only downside is that while Utley helped elevate the team to its greatest heights in three decades, he didn’t get to reap the ultimate benefit of a second World Series championship. One of the most painful regrets of 2017 was not getting him a follow-up ring to the one he got in 2008 with the Phillies. 2018 was a missed opportunity too, especially coming after his official announcement, but Utley wasn’t on the playoff roster in any round, and the team wasn’t as much a favorite to win as the year prior.
Luckily, he has returned almost as quickly as he left the diamond. We didn’t get him that second ring as a player, so let’s get it for him as a team official.
Simply put, it’s the least we can do for Dad.