With the Chicago Cubs forcing the Cleveland Indians to at least Game 6 of the World Series, the official start of MLB free agency was delayed to Wednesday morning at the earliest. Whenever that point comes, Chase Utley will be among the Los Angeles Dodgers no longer under contract.
The same held true for Utley last winter, when he was coming off an underwhelming two months with the Dodgers. After being traded to Los Angeles in August, the veteran second baseman hit just .202/.291/.363 with nine doubles, three home runs and nine RBI over 34 games.
Utley’s biggest contribution arguably came in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series when he upended New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, sparking the Dodgers to a comeback victory.
In what was a mild surprise the Dodgers re-signed Utley to a one-year, $7.5 million contract last December. The plan called for him to serve as a utility man — spelling Howie Kendrick at second base and Justin Turner at third base.
A driving factor to bringing Utley back this season was the leadership and example he sets in the clubhouse. It was no accident Utley’s locker in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium was next to Corey Seager’s.
“[Utley’s intangibles were] taken into account when we traded for him originally, taken into account when we re-signed him last offseason, and it’s something we value greatly,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently said.
“Again, as far as how everything plays out with the roster, there are a lot of things up in the air. The respect that we have for him on the field and off the field remains unchanged.”
Kendrick’s calf strain suffered during Spring Training created an opportunity for Utley that he never relinquished. The 37-year-old not only became the starting second baseman but also the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter.
Utley was strong out of the gate before scuttling as the season wore on. He finished the season batting .252/.319/.396 with 26 doubles, 14 home runs and 52 RBI in 138 games.
Utley was particularly ineffective this postseason, going 3-for-28 with two RBI, three walks and eight strikeouts over 10 games. He did deliver a go-ahead, RBI single in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Friedman’s remarks suggested the Dodgers are open to re-signing Utley, though it presumably would come under the notion of him this time actually filling a role off the bench.