FEB. 10: Utley has narrowed his field to four teams, tweets Rosenthal. The veteran second baseman is only considering contending clubs and is moving closer to making a decision.
FEB. 8: The Indians are interested in veteran second baseman Chase Utley, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Certainly, as Heyman notes, Cleveland is far from a perfect fit for Utley, as Jason Kipnis is entrenched at second base. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal hears the same, noting that there are also other clubs in the mix on Utley (Twitter link).
The Indians seemingly would have a difficult time finding consistent at-bats for Utley, which could make them a tough sell for the 38-year-old. With Kipnis at second base and a combination of Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana set to rotate between first base and DH, there’s no regularly open spot for Utley to occupy. However, he’d be a nice bat off the bench for manager Terry Francona, and it’s possible that Utley would be attracted to Cleveland’s deep roster and status as an early AL Central division favorite. Heyman notes that Cleveland would be interested in giving Utley a utility job if he’s open to such a role. His experience outside of second base is fairly limited, but Utley has logged a few innings at both infield corners in the Majors (230 at first base and 27 at third).
Utley didn’t have a great season at the plate in 2016 but held his own in mostly regular work with the Dodgers, hitting .252/.319/.396 with 14 homers in 565 plate appearances. His batting line was dragged down by a woeful .154/.206/.264 slash against left-handed pitchers, but Utley handled righties quite well; in 468 trips to the plate while holding the platoon advantage, he batted .273/.343/.425 with 12 of his 14 round-trippers.
Cleveland may also be attractive to Utley based on the simple fact that there aren’t many teams with regular second-base at-bats to offer. The Dodgers and Angels entered the winter with clear needs at Utley’s position, but the Dodgers acquired Logan Forsythe from the Rays, while the Angels acquired Danny Espinosa from the Nationals. (The Halos could still conceivably use Utley in a platoon with the switch-hitting Espinosa, but there’s been no recent link between those two parties.)
It’s not clear which other teams have interest, though Heyman writes that some wonder if Utley, a Long Beach native and Bay Area resident, would be reluctant to leave California. If that’s the case it becomes all the more difficult to find a fit. The A’s could theoretically make room for Utley by shifting Jed Lowrie to a utility role, but there’s been no connection between the two. The Giants could move an infielder into left field to try to make room for Utley, but that’s obviously far from a perfect fit as well.
Speculating further (if Utley is willing to leave the west coast), the Royals could seek some more certainty at second base or, at least, a left-handed bat for the bench. The Braves have also been loosely linked to second base upgrades this winter, while the Twins are known to be looking for a strong veteran voice in their clubhouse. Signing with a team that lost as many games as either Atlanta or Minnesota did in 2016 could be a tough sell for Utley, however, to say nothing of geographic preference. All of these potential fits outside of Cleveland are, of course, speculative reaches due to the lack of obvious fits for the longtime Phillies star. Still, at last check Utley was said to have received “multiple offers,” so it seems that he’ll ultimately find a team to suit up for what will be his 15th Major League season.