Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Utley undaunted in approach toward 2016

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Arizona Diamondbacks

By Jon Weisman

Chase Utley has seen just about everything in his 13 Major League seasons, but this winter brings something new.

As in, a whole new set of questions.

As evidenced by today’s conference call with reporters following his official return to the Dodgers for 2016, curiosity abounds about Utley’s future role with the Dodgers, his potential productivity and, yes, about the slide heard ’round the world wide.

Utley responded with patience, but only a hint of vulnerability. His attitude this offseason is as hard-nosed as it has always been.

“I spend this time of the year preparing to play as many games as possible,” Utley said. “That obviously is the goal in my preparation, but again, we’ll see what happens.”

New manager Dave Roberts has chatted via text message with Utley, who expects to follow up on the phone in the near future to get into more specifics about 2016. One new winter twist is this: After making his Major League debut at third base with the Dodgers on September 21, the longtime second baseman is incorporating that position into his offseason routine.

“It’s something I’ll continue to work on and get better at,” he said.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Diego PadresUtley does have reason to be defiant with Father Time. As recently as 2014, Utley played in 155 games with a .746 OPS (108 OPS+) and had a 4.4 WAR. Even in a down, injury-challenged 2015 that left him with a .532 OPS through the end of July, he ended up contributing 0.5 WAR to the Dodgers in only 34 games, thanks in no small part to above-average defense.

“Early in the season, I guess you could say I wasn’t 100 percent,” Utley said, “but as the season progressed I felt more comfortable and better, and I feel that will still continue to improve.”

“I’ve never really put numbers or expectations on what I feel like I can do, but obviously staying healthy is important for me. Going out playing and playing to win and trying to implement that on a team basis — as far as that, you can’t really control your success, but you can control how you prepare for it.”

Returning to the Dodgers wasn’t automatic, even for a Pasadena native who played at Long Beach Poly and UCLA. Utley said he spoke to teams both in and out of California.

But Los Angeles provided “a good fit for me personally, as well as a team that had an opportunity to win,” and it was “an easy decision” in the end to return.

“This is the first time that I’ve been a free agent, so it was all kind of new to me,” Utley said. “Obviously, having a taste of what it was like to be a Dodger for the few months that I was there last year, I think, had some weight behind it. … It got to a point where I felt comfortable with where the Dodgers were at, and I wanted to be a part of it for next year.

“I got to know a bunch of the guys, (who were) not only good players but good guys on the team. The amount of talent on the team and within the organization is pretty special … some young guys especially have a no-limit ceiling. So I’m excited to see them work and improve and watch them mature.”

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Diego Padres

One thing that isn’t questioned about Utley is whether he can provide leadership in the clubhouse, even though he remains something of a newcomer. Los Angeles, he said, provides no unique challenge.

“Guys were into it — they worked hard,” Utley said. “You can’t be completely serious all the time, which is something that I like from the teams I’ve been on in the past with the Phillies and this squad with the Dodgers. I’m trying to point guys in the right direction if they want to be pointed in the right direction.

“I’ve played in a number of different types of clubhouses. All in Philadelphia, but every year it changes — you have new faces, new personalities. Having the ability to adapt to those personalities is important (toward) finding the way to get the most out of players’ abilities that you can.”

Asked to reflect on his slide into Ruben Tejada during the National League Division Series, Utley said the unresolved appeal of MLB’s two-game suspension prevented him from commenting at length, “other than I think I made a hard, aggressive slide to break up a double play in a playoff game.” He also allowed that he wasn’t taken by surprise by the intensity of the fan reaction in New York.

“Playing in Philadelphia for so many years, we’ve always had a big rivalry against the Mets,” Utley said. “They weren’t too nice to us back then — that aspect was fairly similar.”


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  1. I really hope Utley and rebound next year. I’ve always loved him. Wish him the best!
    -David Strobach

  2. oldbrooklynfan

    I would’ve been happy with Utley, but I still have a bad feeling inside about that dirty slide into Tejada. If he’s still with the team, I’m prepared to take the well deserved booing the Met’s fans will have for him.

  3. Utley’s slide was an old-school hard-nosed play that MLB just doesn’t tolerate anymore. Simple as that. More important is what Dodgers intend to do about the IF this year. Utley at $ 7 mil is quite a sum for what is supposed to be a utility guy. Who will start at 2b and 3b is the real issue.

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